Dwight Howard reports improvement in injured right shoulder, but still concedes pain

Everywhere he looks, Dwight Howard sees teammates dropping left and right out of the lineup.

As the Lakers enter Game 3 tonight of their first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center, he’s refused to let it cloud his optimism that the Lakers can’t become the 16th NBA team to overcome a 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series.

“We have confidence in each other. I’m not going to sit up here and guys are not going to sit in the locker room and throw up the flag,” Howard said. “We stil believe we can win this series and a title. We have a lot of faith in each other. We’re not going to quit.”

But with the Lakers without four of their frontcourt players in Kobe Bryant (season-ending torn left Achilles tendon), Steve Blake (strained right hamstring), Steve Nash (sore right hamstring) and Jodie Meeks (partial torn ligament in left ankle), the responsibility increases for Dwight Howard. And with that, it means absorbing the season-long injuries including a surgically repaired back and torn labrum in his right shoulder.

“Do I feel pain?” Howard repeated when a reporter asked him. “Of course.”

Yet, Howard has shown in recent months that he can overcome it.

Following the NBA All-Star break, Howard improved improvement in his conditioning stemmed from harder workouts and a diet free of any sugar and sweets. Since then, Howard has shown marked improvement each month regular-season games in scoring from February (15.1 points), March (17.9 points) and April (20.88 points). Still, Howard has a ways to go.

Howard has averaged 18 points on 62.5 percent shooting and 12 rebounds through two games against San Antonio. But he’s offset that effort with 4.5 turnovers and five fouls per contest.

“I’m getting better every day,” Howard said. “These injuries I’ve had, it takes time to heal. It doesn’t heal magically. We got to deal with it and I’ve been doing my best all year playing through a lot of pain and injuries that I had. I want to continue to do it.”

Lakers forward Pau Gasol said he’s occasionally encouraged Howard to change his post moves because of his injured shoulder.

“I told him to protect his shoulder if he would finish with his left shoulder, they wouldn’t have a chance to whack on his injured shoulder,” Gasol said. “It would be a good way for him to protect himself.”

Howard has also worn Posture Shirt in recent months, a black protective undershirt that keeps his scapula and spine lined up over his hips while balancing his muscle and shoulder joints together.

But Howard says those altered approaches don’t completely eradicate the situation.

“I can’t avoid any contact,” Howard said. “Guys are going to hit me, grab me, hold me or whatever they have to do. I can’t avoid it unless I sit on the bench.”

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

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