Dwight Howard patiently sat at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, hoping to see Kobe Bryant.
The two didn’t talk considering Howard said he arrived just before Bryant would have surgery to treat a torn Achilles’ tendon that the Lakers estimate will sideline him a minimum of six to nine months. But Howard’s visit went beyond supporting a teammate and wishing him well.
Even though the circumstances remain different, Howard says he can relate to Bryant’s injury. Howard suffered a herniated disk in his back with the Orlando Magic last April, which sidelined him for the remainder of the 2011-12 season. It took Howard six months to return to the court following back surgery. And since then, Howard has admitted he hasn’t maintained the same energy level and explosiveness.
“I can relate to him because I know exactly how he feels,” Howard said. “For him, when he’s at the top of his game and has a major injury like that, all the questions start to come from everyone on what will he be when he comes back and will he be the same player and will he do certain things.”
Howard went through that this season. He averaged 16.9 points and 12.6 rebounds, his lowest numbers since the 2005-06 season. Howard also had to deal with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, an issue that still affects him after missing seven games this season. Those injuries, his relatively reduced offensive role and heightened media scrutiny led to a difficult first season with the Lakers.
“All of that stuff will start running through your head,” Howard said. “I can relate to everything he’s feeling right now with the pain, the hurt, wishing he could play, all that stuff. That’s something that is very close to me.”
Howard encountered plenty of problems to tackle in the past year. The pain in his back continuously persisted. His timing, explosiveness and fatigue also visibly waned. But there was one other area that became the most challenging to handle.
“For me, it wasn’t the fact that I had the surgery. It was the fact that basically since my whole left leg had kind of went dead, I wondered will I be able to play again?” Howard said. “That’s the biggest issue with me and trying to get back on the floor to play. I would say the mental aspect because for the first couple of months, I still couldn’t do anything off my left leg. I hope I can at least to be able to run and jump and I was scared about that for a long time.”
Since then, the Lakers have noticed visible progress.
In the last five games, Howard averaged 20.2 points on 67.9 percent shooting. He also spoke up during Saturday’s practice about the need to have confidence to overcome the void stemmed from Bryant’s absence. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni also said most of the offense will revolve around Pau Gasol and Howard.
“He’s getting better all the time,” D’Antoni said. “His numbers are huge all the time. He’s getting stronger. You can see it. He’s up to the challenge that he has ahead of us and is looking forward to it.”
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