Rockets’ Dwight Howard “sad” about Kobe Bryant’s injury

Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard traded endless barbs both through actions and words as teammates. They since engaged in an on-court scuffle where Bryant called Howard “soft” and Howard answered with unspecified retorts. After Howard left the Lakers two summers ago for the Houston Rockets, plenty of comparisons loom on Bryant’s serious demeanor and Howard’s more playful personality.

But Howard offered some diplomacy surrounding his reaction when he learned that Bryant tore a right rotator cuff in his right shoulder, an injury that could sideline him for the remainder of the 2014-15 season.

“I was sad,” Howard said after morning shootaround on Sunday at Windward High School. “He’s battled through a couple of injuries lately. It hurts to see him work so hard to come back from injury and then he has another one. So I was sad.”

Bryant tore his left Achilles tendon in April 2013 when Howard played for the Lakers, an injury that sidelined him for eight months. Bryant then returned Dec. 2013 only to play for six games before suffering a left knee injury that eventually kept him out the remainder of the season. This season, Bryant averaged 22.3 points albeit on a career-low 37.3 percent shooting in 34.5 minutes through 35 games before aggravating his right shoulder in Wednesday’s loss against New Orleans.

“I was sad because he’s my favorite player,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “Watching him growing up and seeing him battle through all these injuries, it’s tough for him. But he’s a strong minded person and he’ll battle through it.”

Howard has his own injury issues. The Rockets called him a game-time decision for tonight’s game against the Lakers at Staples Center because of a sprained right ankle. Although Howard insisted he will be “fine,” Houston coach Kevin McHale sounded skeptical Howard would play against the Lakers in would would mark his second absence in three games this season against his former team.

Had Howard and Bryant squared up against each other on Sunday, it would have become inevitable Laker fans would shower Howard with boos. It seems possible another testy exchange between Bryant and Howard would have ensued. But at least through words, Howard praised Bryant for what his legacy will entail whenever he retires.

“Five championships. That will be his legacy over there,” Howard said, pointing to a wall on the gym that had the following words encrypted. “Hall of Famer. That’s Kobe Bryant.”

Yet, Howard still offered some vague and perhaps subtle digs toward the Lakers (12-32) in the midst of their worst record in L.A. franchise history. In two questions relating both to former teammates Jeremy Lin and Tarik Black, Howard said, “As I look around their team, I see nothing but untapped potential.”

What did Howard mean?

“I don’t know,” Howard said. “I just saw it in a commercial.”

Howard was referring to a Geico commercial that featured Pinocchio telling employees they have “untapped potential” only for his nose to grow that implied he obviously was lying. Was Howard being just as disingenuous about Bryant and the Lakers with a read-between-the-lines quote? He insisted not so as he walked off the practice court.

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