1:54 AM EST, February 8, 2013
BOSTON -- So Mike D'Antoni, Kobe Bryant and everyone else wanted Dwight Howard to rush back. For this?
Talk about a pain in the shoulder.
The Lakers were trailing by 26 after three quarters to the hated Celtics, officially designating this as an embarrassment.
But whether it was punishment or conditioning, D'Antoni sent the fragile Howard back into this fiasco even though as Howard goes so go the Lakers' playoff chances.
The coaching staff thinks he's a big baby. But as much as Bryant needed Pau Gasol to arrive to win two more titles, he now needs Howard to be healthy and, maybe it's hard to believe, dominate.
Along the rocky way there will be all kinds of reports about who is happy and who is not, where Howard will play next season and ultimately whether Lakers fans care.
There will also be predictions of the end of the world if the Lakers struggle, so you know I'm getting ready to mention Magic.
As the leader of the rabble, it's usually up to Magic to set the agenda and speak the outlandish.
But Magic's priorities were a bit off Thursday. He was seemingly more interested in being with the president and tweeting about it than waxing crazy about the hapless Lakers.
So that left it to Shaq to sound ridiculous on behalf of former Lakers everywhere, and he let no one down.
Speaking on TNT before the game, the Big Hypocrite said: "The great players before us showed they can play through pain.
"My favorite clip in the world is Willis Reed walking through that tunnel [at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 of the Finals, 1970]. We have all played through pain. [Howard's] shoulder is not going to get any better. If you're so hurt all the time, stop smiling on the court."
What's smiling got to do with any of this?
But beyond that, isn't this the same guy who put off having toe surgery before the 2002-03 season, irritating Kobe to no end and leading to a disastrous 11-19 start to the season?
Shaq really has no right to ask someone to do whatever is necessary to help a team after routinely reporting out of shape to the Lakers.
James Worthy also let Howard have it on Times Warner Cable SportsNet, suggesting from 3,000 miles away that Howard wasn't mentally ready to play.
But then it's so easy to pound Howard because he's been nothing more than a pushover since arriving.
His body has not allowed him to perform as he would like. His back continues to hurt him. "Every day," he said after playing the Celtics.
He lost the nerves in his legs because of back surgery and he's undoubtedly going to feel pain again in his shoulder if smacked while trying to go up and score.
And yet, as broken down as he might be, he's near the top in several NBA categories that measure a center's effectiveness.
He missed only seven games the first seven years he played for Orlando, but there have been questions about his toughness because he seemingly refused to play through pain.
"People can say what they want, but none of them are playing," Howard said. "I spent a whole summer trying to recover [from back surgery] because I wanted to play through pain and show people that I'm tough."
A happy guy, who signed on to play with a team built on the intensity of Bryant, he tried to tone down his fun-loving act.
But before the Celtics game, while not declaring definitively whether he would play, it was a dead giveaway that he would when he was joking again with everyone.
Early on, the Celtics were called for five fouls while trying to figure out a way to handle Howard. He was causing the Celtics massive problems. Kevin Garnett went to the bench with two fouls less than four minutes into the game.
So much for the Lakers highlights.
Howard played 28 minutes, hit four of eight shots including a 15-foot jumper, made one of six free throws and had nine rebounds in the 116-95 loss.
"There were a couple of times where I felt it [pain in the shoulder], but I was trying just not to think about it," he said. "I was just trying to be as strong as I can without nursing it."
So what did D'Antoni think of Howard's performance?
"Like everybody else, it wasn't good."
Howard said he had been pointing to returning for this game. But there were some who thought Kobe had pressured him into returning.
Kobe said that wasn't true.
He said ESPN sensationalized remarks he had made earlier to a Boston reporter when he said, "We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal ... we need some urgency."
Kobe said he's been sounding the "time for urgency" mantra since a loss in Cleveland and said if he wanted to pressure Howard into playing he would have no qualms about personally telling Howard. Kobe doesn't seem to be the bashful sort.
Howard didn't see the report but heard about it from the media and reminded reporters that Bryant isn't a doctor. He wasn't happy with the notion of being called out, true or not.
But whatever the impact of such media reports, and there will certainly be more, Howard's health is probably the single biggest thing that will determine the Lakers' playoff hopes.
Without it, and right now we're probably suggesting a miracle, I can hear Magic already: How 'bout those Dodgers!
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