Too much stuff clouded his head that didn’t allow Dwight Howard to think clearly.
A surgically repaired back and a torn labrum in his right shoulder made his body ache. Howard’s candy-eating routine sapped his energy level. A diminished offensive role fueled his frustrations. The heightened media pressure in Los Angeles made Howard feel more overwhelmed with all the aforementioned problems.
But once the NBA All-Star break, Howard reassessed.
He talked with hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon about his play. Howard teamed with strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco to help accelerated his conditioning progress. The Lakers center sat by himself thinking about what he needed to change.
Howard enters the Lakers’ game Sunday against the Chicago Bulls averaging 15.44 points on 55 percent shooting, 14.11 rebounds and 2.44 blocks per game. Those numbers are actually a decrease to his similar average (16.2 points on 57.4 percent shooting, 12.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game). But Howard’s and various team accounts suggest he’s had a stronger imprint on each games because of stronger conditioning, a more consistent focus on defense and stronger execution on pick-and-rolls.
Howard attributes that progress to various changes he’s made since the All-Star break.
It starts with his diet. He’s stripped away candy in favor of Whole Foods.
“All the sugar is bad for us,” Howard said. “It causes us to get fatigued. The less sugar we put in our bodies, the better we’ll be.”
I had like Skittles, Straburst, Snickers. I just ate everything that whole weekend before it was time to start.
Howard says he changed his mindset on how he prepares for games.
“You go home and, despite playing video games, I just thought about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team,” Howard said. “And I really want to win a championship. That’s the reason why I’m in LA. Me and the trainers talked about ways I could get myself into better shape. I wish I could’ve had a whole summer to get myself into shape, but I didn’t have one. So I had to do it during the season.”
Howard revealed he’s matured in taking more responsibility in handling unspecified parts of his personal life. Howard also has shown more appreciation for Kobe Bryant’s brutally honest feedback and obsessive devotion to his craft. That included taking up on Bryant’s advice to take 1,000 jumpshots a day to assuage Howard’s fear of missing.
“He doesn’t care about nothing, but going out there and playing hard,” Howard said. “That’s a lesson a lot of us have to learn, especially young guys. I’m sure when he first got to LA, that was something that really got to him. But he just got in the gym and worked at it.”
Despite all these changes, Howard said he’s refused to change who he is as a person. He actually considered doing that once he arrived with the Lakers this offseason as a way to shed his image stemmed from his hasty exit from the Orlando Magic.
“I wanted to, but I shouldn’t let what people say affect who I am as a person and change because of them. there’s certain things I can work on, but that’s for my personal use,” Howard said. “Not to change who I am as a basketball player. I like to have fun on the court, but I do take it serious. and I take what we’re trying to accomplish seriously, but at the same time I want to have fun while I do it.”
What did Howard want to change?
“I wanted to come here and not talk to anybody and act completely different,” Howard said. “But that’s not who I am. I’ve never been that way. I shouldn’t ever shut myself off to the world. I don’t think that’s good for the team or for me and what I want to accomplish in life. I thought about it and said, ‘No, I can’t change. I’ve got to mature in certain areas. And I think I have. But I can’t change who I am.”
Why did he want to change?
“Because I got tired of the perception,” Howard said. “And I know people only see the smile and think that I’m all about games. But I take what I do seriously, I just like to have fun with it.”
Instead, Howard has channeled his thirst for self improvement on the court while still keeping his personality. It hasn’t been easy.
“The stuff we go through in life isn’t always going to be peaches and cream,” Howard said. “But we have to learn from it. We either have to push the obstacles we go through out of the way or jump over ’em and move forward.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org