PHOENIX — Slowly but surely, Dwight Howard clutched his gray undershirt. He arched it over his head. With hesitation, Howard then pulled the shirt down to cover his body.
That simple act looked painful to watch. It proved difficult for Howard to complete. And it provided all the visual images surrounding the pain level Howard described as “really sore” after aggravating his right shoulder for the second time in the last three weeks.
The Lakers unraveled in their 92-86 loss Wednesday to the Phoenix Suns after Howard injured his shoulder and missed the final 6:56 of the game. The Lakers will reevaluate him on the team’s day off Thursday in Minnesota before assessing his availability when the Lakers visit the Timberwolves Friday at Target Center.
“I’m going to try as much as I can,” said Howard after posting nine points on 4 of 9 shooting and 14 rebounds. “But I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder. We’ll just have to see how it feels tomorrow. It’s in a lot of pain right now.”
Howard said he felt “numbness” all over his right arm and neck after taking a fall following a loose ball. He said it proved just as painful when he initially injured the shoulder in the Lakers’ loss Jan. 4 to the Clippers where Caron Butler fouled him hard as he drove into the lane. Howard then aggravated the shoulder two days later in the Lakers’ loss to the Denver Nuggets. He sat out the next three games.
Howard aggravated his shoulder again in the Lakers’ loss last week to Memphis, prompting him to miss the second half. But an examination the following day revealed no further damage.
Howard refused to think about the possibility he would need surgery. But he sounded uncertain whether he would have to sit out another week to heal the shoulder.
“I don’t want to,” Howard said. “But we’ll see.”
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hardly sounded concerned, leaning on incidents where both he and former Lakers forward Lamar Odom played through shoulder injuries involving a torn labrum.
“I’m not worried about it. It’s going to be an all season thing,” Bryant said. “It’s one of those type of things when you get banged like that going up, you’re going to get that stinging sensation. That’s how it’s going to be.”
How did Bryant push through?
“You just accept it,” he said. “After a while, you get used to playing with it. But it’s a little bit of an adjustment at first.”
Howard sounded determined in following the same mindset. He plans to get plenty of rest and avoid sleeping on his hurt shoulder. Howard will also receive constant icing and electronic stimulation. He’s also worn kinesio tape along the shoulder to help strengthen it.
“I’ve had two years of having injuries,” said Howard, who had back surgery last April. “It’s not something that’s easy to deal with. I’m not going to lose my spirit. I’m going to do whatever I can to get my shoulder strong.”
The Lakers sure hope so. They missed his presence as they coughed up an 18-point lead against Phoenix (16-30).
“It’ll be tough without him,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “This team is built to play around a center. We are not athletic or fast elsewhere. We’re experienced and we have some skiled players, but I think it’s all predicated on having defensive presence and having a big body in the paint on both ends.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org