MEMPHIS — After endlessly insisting the Lakers’ woes won’t stop until they start playing “inside-out,” Dwight Howard has started singing a different tune.
“It starts with me,” Howard said. “I have to go out there and dominate defensively and make it tough for teams. I just have to get back to doing that and not worry about the offense.”
The Lakers (17-24) enter tonight’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies (26-14) at FedEx Forum completing a 72-morning shootaround, the longest ever under coach Mike D’Antoni. Among the topics of discussion: D’Antoni wants his team to center more attention on the team’s defensive struggles than worrying about whether the Lakers feature enough post-ups in their offense.
For Howard, that means backing away from his complaints voiced after the Lakers’ loss Sunday to the Chicago about his five field-goal attempts.
“It was immature,” Howard said. “I shouldn’t have done it. Today is a new day and today is a new game.”
Howard even said “this will be a start of a new season,” a motivational tactic D’Antoni tried only 10 days ago. The Lakers then won two straight games against Cleveland and Milwaukee, only to drop the next three against Miami, Toronto and Chicago.
None of this changes the Lakers’ reality. They remain 12th place in the Western Conference, trailing the Houston Rockets by four games for the final eighth playoff spot. The Lakers would likely have to go 31-10 the rest of the way considering the past five eighth seeds have averaged 48 victories.
It also doesn’t change the ongoing speculation on whether Howard will stay with the Lakers once he becomes a free agent this offseason. With how dire the Lakers have performed this season, some believe it’s better the Lakers trade Howard.
“Only reason they’re saying that is because I have an opportunity to walk away at the end of the year,” he said. “But that’s my right at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter what team or whoever decides to do. I plan on being here for the remainder of the season. My focus and team’s focus is do what we can do to get into the playoffs. From there, it’s anybody’s game.”
D’Antoni openly wished Howard stays with the “Lakers for life.” But Howard offered no clarity on his future.
“We’re not discussing that,” he said. “Right now my goal is to win. All I want to do is win. I have to put all my energy and sacrifice whatever I have to do, humble myself and go out there and play.”
Howard has averaged 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, his lowest marks since the 2006-07 season. He’s chalked up his reduced numbers in the past to nine-month old back surgery and a decreased role while playing with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace.
“We need to get Dwight involved offensively, but we can’t predicate you better or he won’t play defense,” D’Antoni said. “We need to post him up more and get him the ball more in better spots.”
But Howard believes he can enhance those chances by adopting a different mindset.
“Sometimes I get caught up in stats,” Howard said. “Those stats don’t determine games. I can affect the game without scoring the ball. I have to get back to doing that. It’s not about how many points. I’ve been immature in the past thinking it’s about shots because that’s what people want to see and they’re talking about points and how many times yous core. For me, it’s not even about scoring. It’s bigger than scoring points.”
“I have to do more for this team and there’s a lot of responsibility on my shoulders,” he continued. “I have to step up and take it. It has to be me. It has to start with me. I’m a guy that has to dominate for us to win. We’re not going to win unless I dominate.”
So how does Howard dominate even if he’s not scoring?
“Winning and dominating the game with my presence, pick and rolling and make everybody collapse and our guys getting open shots,” Howard said. “Just small things on how to affect the big picture. And not complain about anything. I have to go out and play and handle it a lot better.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org