Any glimpses of Dwight Howard becoming Superman likely won’t happen this month.
As he continues to improve his conditioning stemmed from 10-month-old back surgery, Howard believes he won’t reach his peak until the Lakers accomplish a very important benchmark.
“You get to the playoffs and you get to the Finals, hopefully,” Howard said. “If not, I have the whole summer to get my body right. But right now, I’ll do as much as I can to get in shape and fight through it.”
The Lakers (30-30) enter tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder (43-16) at Chesapeake Energy Arena two games behind the Utah Jazz (32-28) for the final playoff spot. Of course, the Lakers’ postseason aspirations could largely hinge on how Howard’s play.
Since the ALl-Star break, Howard has averaged 14.83 points on 58.3 percent shooting, 13.83 rebounds and 2.16 blocks per game. His points production is slightly below his season average (16.1), while his rebounds mark a slight improvement from his season average (12 rebounds). But Howard’s appeared noticeably healthier, allowing him to run at a faster pace and provide more activity on defense.
“I had been trying to pace myself so I wouldn’t get too tired,” Howard said. “Now I’m trying to run up and down the court as hard as I can. When I need a break, I tell the coach I need a couple of minutes and then go back out there and do the same thing. I can’t give you a time on how long I can play. But I try to work myself to exhaustion and hope for the best.”
So is Howard providing more effort lately?
“No, no, no,” he said. “I had to do whatever I could to stay in the game. A lot of guys pace themselves. But for us right now, we have to go as hard as we can. I’m not in the best shape. So I can only do as much as my body allows me to do. Once I reach that limit, I try to push myself to another limit and then ask for a coach for a sub. Then I come back in. That’s the best way to get in shape, to go as hard as you can. Earlier in the season, that was tough.”
In other words, Howard couldn’t give all of his body simply because it wouldn’t let him. Now he can do it in short bursts so long as he receives a few moments of rest to recharge his body.
That’s helped in various ways.
Plenty of Kobe Bryant’s recent dunks happened partly because Howard set screens to clear space for the Lakers guard to drive into the lane. Steve Nash and Howard run the pick-and-roll with more frequency. And in the Lakers’ 99-98 win Sunday over the Atlanta Hawks, Howard recalled one play where he contested a shot at the free throw line before quickly sprinting back to the basket to grab the rebound.
“That was a play I wouldn’t have been able to make earlier in the season,” Howard said. “That shows my conditioning is a lot better. I have a long way to go to get where I’ve always been. But that is progress.”
The next step?
“I have to continue with the process and not get frustrated,” Howard said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating because I do wish I could do everything in the past. But I know it takes time.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org