BOSTON — A productive offseason. A rejuvenated roster. A commitment to a championship. A proud tradition. All-time great performances and Hall-of-Fame predecessors.
All of it, so rich. Yet those are not what will help the Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs this season.
With Pau Gasol sidelined indefinitely, the spotlight now shines on Dwight Howard. Brightly.
With his broad shoulders and still-recovering back, Howard will have to channel his inner superhero, torn right labrum and all.
Once upon a time for Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, winning six out of seven games was the norm. But today, even a win over the lowly Detroit Pistons is worth celebrating.
The Lakers sputtered into Thursday night’s nationally televised road matchup with the Boston Celtics at 23-26 and in 10th place in the Western Conference. A win – or even a good showing – could have done wonders for one of the most disappointing teams in recent memory.
It wasn’t even close.
The Celtics had won five straight games since losing All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL and were looking to make it six at the Lakers’ expense.
Mission accomplished, in convincing fashion.
The Lakers led Thursday night’s game for a mere 34 seconds. It was Paul Pierce (24 points, 10-of-17), Jeff Green (19 points) leading a balanced scoring attack that helped the Celtics rule the day.
The fourth quarter was just beginning, but the Lakers had already written this one off. Down by 26 points, Mike D’Antoni folded, opting to wisely rest Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Bryant, his leading scorers to that point.
The game’s final quarter was relegated to garbage time after the Celts scored 10 points in the final 2:29 of the third quarter.
To his credit, Howard returned to the lineup after missing the previous three games, but Bryant left him no choice.
Two nights earlier in Brooklyn, Bryant led the Lakers down the stretch to a win over the Nets. Howard sat out, nursing his torn labrum. Metta World Peace was suspended by the NBA for a tussle with Detroit guard Brandon Knight. Gasol left early with the injury later revealed to be a torn right plantar fascia.
Afterward, Bryant was asked about Howard’ s injury and his status.
“I don’t think he’s ever had to play through injuries his entire career,” Bryant said. “He’s been relatively healthy. It’s a new experience for him.”
Bryant, who is currently battling tendinitis in his right elbow, later concluded by alluding to the injuries he has had over the years and the fact that he has played through them to the point where he now knows what he can tolerate.
Most felt that the implication was that Howard isn’t tough enough to play through injuries because he hasn’t been hardened the way Bryant has with his famously high pain threshold.
On Wednesday, Bryant took it one step further by saying that the Lakers “don’t have time” for Howard’s shoulder to heal and that the center needed to show more “urgency” toward helping the team.
During Thursday’s shootaround in Boston, Howard fired back.