As he worked on a series of post-up moves, drives to the basket and free throws, Dwight Howard didn’t just test how the aggravated right shoulder feels. It provided a sneak preview on whether Howard will follow through on his words on rededicating himself when the Lakers (17-25) host the Utah Jazz (23-19) at Staples Center.
He made a proclamation two days ago, but he aggravated his right shoulder during the Lakers’ 106-93 loss Wednesday to the Memphis Grizzlies. Howard only finished with two points, missed all four field goal attempts and collected two rebounds. But Howard just coughed up the game as a “bad break” because of his injury.
“I shouldn’t have to prove anything,” said Howard, who has averaged 16.7 points and 12 rebounds, his lowest marks since the 2006-07 season. “Just go out there and play. People have high expectations. I have high expectations for myself. But I have to fight through it. This is a true test for us and certain guys individually.”
Howard faces the biggest test.
The Lakers had an air-it-out meeting Wednesday where Kobe Bryant confronted him about his frustration playing with him because of his diminished field-goal attempts. Howard had urged reporters “to look at the stat sheet” to explain the Lakers’ loss Monday to the Chicago Bulls, a not-so-subtle reference to his five field-goal attempts. He later called those comments “immature.” His behavior has sparked plenty to argue the Lakers should consider trading him or even letting him walk when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in July.
“I want to keep my mind clear of the offseason stuff,” Howard said. “I haven’t even thought about it. I know what’s being said. But right now, we’re four games out and have an opportunity to turn this thing around. We have to stay positive.”
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni downplayed the need for Howard to keep that mindset so he doesn’t leave this offseason. A source close to him has indicated he’s frustrated with D’Antoni’s system because it inhibits his offensive production.
“Dwight Howard gets more touches in the paint than anybody in the league execpt for Al Jefferson,” D’Antoni said. “We want to do that. He should get more touches than anybody in the league in the paint. That’s the deal. What I’m having a hard time is the ball doesn’t move. We need to move the ball. That’s the biggest thing. We don’t keep our spacing. That’s a big thing. So I don’t know anything of the system that says the system indicates to take bad shots.”
But doesn’t having Howard feel more comfortable convince him to stay?
“You get him comfortable, that would help, and win,” D’Antoni said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get the big picture because we want him here. But addressing the big picture by playing wrong and not winning is not going to help.”
Howard believes having a positive mindset will.
That’s why he bristled when a reporter relayed to him that the Lakers’ four-game deficit behind the Portland Trail Blazers (21-21) for the final playoffs spot marks a wider gap than the 1 1/2 game cushion the team has over the Sacramento Kings (16-27) for 13th place.
“The negativity has to stop,” Howard said. “I’m sick of hearing about it and sick of hearing all the negative stuff. It’s a big problem. Negativity is not good. I have to bring positivity to the situation and to everybody.”
Howard then resorted to using season-long cliches about how the Lakers’ adversities will “bring some great character,” about the need “to stay positive” and not “allow comments to affect us in a negative way.”
“We have to believe for all the fans and everybody who supports the Lakers to believe,” Howard said. We’re struggling and it’s not best time to cheer on the Lakers. But we will get out of it. There’s a rainbow at the other end. We have to get to it even if we have to eat some more Skittles. We have to find a way.”
Even if the Lakers continue saying the right things, rarely do they translate to the court. Howard and other teammates routinely argue after defensive breakdowns. Plenty of the Lakers have expressed frustration with their roles. Then, there’s the team meeting they had.
“This is life,” Howard said. “Sometimes in life, we tend to say the right things. Sometimes in life, we tend to do the wrong things. That’s part of life. We’re growing.”
But will the Lakers grow fast enough and good enough to make the postseason?
Howard sure believes so.
“Our focus is winning a championship and getting into the playoffs,” he said. “When we get into the playoffs, it’s a new ball game. 0-0. Records don’t count. Regular season doesn’t count. It starts all the way over.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org