Lakers laugh at New Orleans being named the Pelicans

He tried to sound diplomatic, but Dwight Howard couldn’t help but snicker at the New Orleans Hornets changing their name to the Pelicans.

“When we bring it in, we’ll say Lakers on 3. But Pelicans on 3?” Howard said with a smile. “That seems kind of weird. I play for the Lakers so I like our name.”

Well, at least it’s safe cross the Hornets…er.. Pelicans off the list of teams Howard could play for once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Regardless, the Lakers’ (19-25) game tonight against the New Orleans Hornets (15-29) at Staples Center marks the last time the two teams will play before the name change takes place next season.

“They’re not very intimidating,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of the Pelicans with a smile.

The Lakers’ talent intimidates others, let alone their Forbes’ assessed $1 billion value. But does the actual name?

Hornets owner Tom Benson changed the name to the Pelicans, Louisiana’s state bird and a symbol identified with efforts to repair the state’s coast following Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP oil spill (2010). Plenty of images surrounding the oil spill showed plenty of affected pelicans, an animal that had been taken off the endangered species list in 2009. Benson also owns the rights to the name Pelicans, which was the nickname for a former minor league baseball team that played in New Orleans for more than 70 years.

The Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte since the 2002-03 season.

The Lakers aren’t just delivering amused by New Orleans’ name change. They’re also in a better mood because of a two-game winning streak featuring a signature win against Oklahoma City. With the Hornets ranking last in the Western Conference, the Lakers should take this game before embarking on an 11-day, seven-game trip.

Still, the Hornets have compiled signature wins, including the Memphis Grizzlies (twice), San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Clippers and Chicago Bulls. New Orleans also features Anthony Davis, who ranks fourth among rookies in scoring (12.8 points per game). Lakers forward Pau Gasol tuned into New Orleans’ win Sunday against Memphis because his brother, Marc, plays for the Grizzlies. It prompted him not to poke fun at New Orleans’ new name change.

“Whichever the name might be, they have a dangerous team. They have young talent team. If you allow them to play and take them lightly, they’re going to get you,” Gasol said. “They’re a tough team. We can’t take them lightly. We have to turn it up a notch against this team.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Steve Blake to play “limited minutes” against New Orleans

After finally clearing the hurdle in receiving medical clearance to play, Lakers guard Steve Blake anticipates facing several more hurdles to jump.

Blake’s appearance when the Lakers’ host the New Orleans Hornets Tuesday at Staples Center will mark the first time since Nov. 11 he played in a game, a span that marked a 37-game absence because of a lower abdominal strain that morphed into an injured groin shortly before a December surgery to treat the original injury.

Since that time, Blake still hasn’t played in any five-on-five drills because of the Lakers’ veteran laden group riddled with injuries and fatigue issues. Blake also conceded his conditioning remains around a “7 or 8″ on a 1-10 scale. Blake will also play with the understanding that his groin area isn’t fully healed.

That’s why Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni plans to play Blake “limited minutes” and remains unsure whether he will immediately backup point guard Steve Nash.

“It’s still going to be a process,” said Blake, who was averaging 5.1 points on 35.3 percent shooting and 3.4 assists per game before his injury. “I have to get my legs underneath me and get in game type condition. But I’m excited to be out there.”
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Dwight Howard says he “loves” Kobe Bryant’s confrontational style

The words may have stung, but Dwight Howard didn’t allow it to hurt him.

Instead, Kobe Bryant confronted him in an air-it-out meeting last week, something that has given Howard a new-found perspective on how he should play with the Lakers.

“I love it,” Howard said. “That’s something we needed. A lot of times we have a lot of guys come together and nobody wants to step on anybody’s toes or do anything against anybody else. We want to win. In order for us to win, we have to pull the best out of each other every night.”

The Lakers have done that, entering Tuesday’s game against the New Orleans Hornets with a two-game winning streak featuring a myriad of roles that Bryant describes as “upside-down.” Bryant has gone from shooter to passer. Steve Nash has gone from passer to shooter. Pau Gasol has gone from perimeter forward to backup center. And Howard has embraced taking ownership on defense while worrying little about his offensive output.

“We all know Kobe is the first option,” Howard said. “Whoever scores after that doesn’t matter. The defensive end is where I take lead and make sure I hold guys accountable and make sure do my job in being active.”

Both Howard and Bryant have refused to talk about the specifics of their meeting. But it mostly rested on Howard needing to gripe less about his secondary offensive role and how he can lead the team on defense.

How much of an adjustment period did it take for Howard to accept that role?

“It wasn’t an easy one. We’re both two big dogs and we bump heads,” Howard said. “Instead of us bumping heads, we can do things to lead this team offensively. He’s going to lead our team. On the defensive end, it’s my job. We all have different roles. We all have one common goal. We have to be together in order for us to succeed.”

To win, Bryant has argued the need to have a culture that’s “confrontational.”

“You can’t just sweep things under the rug all the time. They don’t get better by doing it. You have to be able to confront things when you’re able to challenge each other,” Bryant said. “At the same time, we understand we love each other and care for each other. That’s crucial.”

The Lakers have shown that in the past few games.

Bryant has bristled at Nash for passing up shots and at Metta World Peace for clogging the lane. When players have fallen on the floor, teammates immediately pick them up. Bryant and Howard have shared high fives after making crucial plays.

“I’m happy me and Kobe are getting on the same page,” Howard said. “In order for us to win, me and him have to be together and on the same page. We have to lead this team.”

Even if it means butting heads and arguing.

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Dwight Howard believes he won’t need surgery on his right shoulder

The moment Dwight Howard sat on a padded cushion, the Lakers center let out a huge sigh.

He then conceded the aggravated right shoulder feels “pretty sore.” Howard has vowed he won’t let the pain inhibit his aggressiveness even if it causes additional pain.

But could he suffer so much damage that he’d ultimately need surgery in his shoulder this offseason?

“As of right now, no,” Howard said. “Hopefully it doesn’t get bad enough to where I have to have surgery. I don’t want to think about that right now.”
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Dwight Howard appreciates crowd support during free throws

Every time he steps to the free throw line, Dwight Howard tries to force himself not to worry about his seemingly simple assignment.

Make a free throw.

If that’s what it takes for Howard to improve his marksmanship, then it hardly helps that the Lakers’ 105-96 victory Sunday over the Oklahoma City Thunder featuring the Staples Center crowd giving him loud cheers every time he went to the stripe.

“I’m happy they did it,” Howard said. “That was amazing. I’m happy I didn’t shoot an air ball. That would’ve been bad.”

Still, Howard’s mark still remained bad. He only shot 2 of 10 from the foul line.

“It’s more mental than anything,” Howard said. “I shoot millions of free throws in practice.”

According to a white board at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo, Howard makes about 80 percent of his free throws. HE spends the majority of his time after morning shootarounds and practices working on his form. Howard’s also shown relative improvement in his free throw shooting from December (52.7) to January (58.9).

“They go in at practice,” Howard said. “I have to transfer that to the game and stop thinking about it so much.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Lakers point guard Steve Blake cleared to play Tuesday against New Orleans

For once, Steve Blake had a good reason to smile as he exited out Staples Center. | PHOTOS

The Lakers medically cleared him to play when they play Tuesday against the New Orleans Hornets, Blake has missed the past 37 games because of a lower abdominal strain. As far as playing, Blake joked, “that’s up to the coach.”

It’s a safe bet Blake will be the backup point guard, considering coach Mike D’Antoni has gushed how his playmaking abilities and aggressiveness perfectly fit into his offense.

Blake still reported pain in his lower groin area and said he’ll have to continue to ice it. But he said that won’t inhibit his play.

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” said Blake, who was averaging 5.1 points on 35.3 percent shooting and 3.4 assists per game before his injury. “Just go. Just play.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Lakers waiting for approval on disabled players exception

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak expects to hear from the NBA sometime this week on whether they’ll grant the disabled players exception for Jordan Hill.

Kupchak said that might happen as early as Monday, though he said he’s not overly concerned about it. The exception, worth $1.78 million, goes to teams who has an injured player that will be out until June 15. Hill had left hip surgery last week and won’t return until at least mid July.

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Lakers face big test against Oklahoma City

Game: Lakers (18-25) vs. Thunder (34-10)

When: 12:30 p.m.

Where: Staples Center

TV: ABC

The Lakers will receive clear answers on whether their snapped losing streak is a sign of better things to come, or if it’s nothing more than a one-hit wonder.

It’s likely the Lakers won’t like the verdict when they play the Thunder, which boasts the NBA’s best record. They’re also NBA’s best scoring team (105.9 points per game). Forward Kevin Durant (29.5 points) leads the league in scoring over Kobe Bryant (28.9).
The Lakers have already lost to the Thunder twice this season.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni admits this is hardly the opponent he wants to face after their win Friday agains the Utah Jazz snapped a four-game losing streak.

“I’m looking forward to see if it does stick,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t know if I want Oklahoma City as the next test. But it tests you early. So be it. This is a great game.”
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Dwight Howard sets the tone in Lakers’ 102-84 win over Utah

As he walked toward his locker stall, Dwight Howard carried two accessories that summed up his night.

The ice bag remained tightly wrapped around his aggravated right shoulder. Howard followed through on his vow that he wouldn’t let the pain inhibit his aggressiveness in the Lakers’ 102-84 victory Friday over the Utah Jazz by posting 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Howard also held a bag of Skittles. Those symbolized the figurative rainbow Howard wanted to see after fighting through so many thunderstorms this past week.

Granted, this is only one win that reduces the Lakers’ (18-25) deficit to four games behind the Houston Rockets (23-22) for the final playoff spot. But boy did the Lakers provide a blueprint.

“Tonight our effort and energy was there from the beginning,” Howard said. “We just have to sustain it for the rest of the season.”
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Mike D’Antoni: “I’m not doing what I need to do”

With the Lakers showing little sign that they’ll climb out of the Western Conference cellar, coach Mike D’Antoni conceded what many Lakers fans have thought about him in recent weeks.

“We’re not where we need to be,” D’Antoni said. “I’m the coach. I’m not doing what I need to do. But it’s not a lack of effort from anybody. We’re trying. We’re trying to solve it.”

As the Lakers (17-25) head into tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz (23-19) at Staples Center, it remains unclear how they will snap a three-game losing streak. As hard as it was to see, D’Antoni believed the Lakers made strides in effort and on defense in the team’s 106-93 loss Wednesday to the Memphis Grizzlies. With DWight Howard playing tonight after an exam showed he has no further damage in his right shoulder, D’Antoni professes optimism the momentum will carry over.

“Starting on the defensive end and having everybody committed, I think we’re there,” D’Antoni said. “It started against Memphis that way. Not a great game to get it all together and we lost Dwight. We’re digging step by step. Sometime we have to make a stand.”

Still, D’Antoni suggested after the Memphis lost that the Lakers didn’t have enough speed to keep up no matter how hard they tried. It sounds ridiculous to ask considering the Lakers boast four future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Howard and Pau Gasol. But does D’Antoni believe he has the pieces needed to turn things around and make the playoffs?

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “That’s the sad part. I think we do have enough.”

Nonetheless, D’Antoni has gone 12-22 since coaching the Lakers. He conceded he hasn’t mastered convincing everyone to embrace their roles.

“It’s a challenge,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no doubt about it trying to get everybody on the same page. Nothing works if all 5, 10 buy in. Once they’re comfortable and buying in and having a time start sitting, there’s challenges.”

That’s because D’Antoni’s system calls for more perimeter shooters and faster speed on a team that boasts two seven-footers and a veteran-laden roster. Can his players thrive under his system?

“Yeah, unless you can’t play. I don’t know if it would help your game or not,” D’Antoni said, referring to the media. “But there’s no doubt it won’t help if we don’t do it.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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