For Dwight Howard, It’s Learning To Play Through Pain

Image Credit: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images

Image Credit: Jared Wickerham | Getty Images

By this point, everyone knows that Dwight Howard is (and has been) playing through pain this season. What many people do not know is how his pain intensifies during games. After the Miami Heat loss Dwight told Yahoo Sports Eric Adelson how immediately after tip-off the pain kicks in.

“They got me early,” he told Yahoo! Sports in the quiet of the Lakers locker room after Sunday’s 107-97 loss. “They would yank it back.”

The pain that follows the yanks, grabs, or pulls that Howard experiences lasts the rest of the contest, but the worst part is how it affects his game. Since his re-injury against the Phoenix Suns and his return against the Boston Celtics, Dwight barely raises his injured shoulder during play. On shot attempts, blocks, and rebounds he only raises his left arm.

Howard said the Bobcats did the same thing in Charlotte Friday night – even worse, in fact.

“It’s like a jolt,” he said. “Then it hurts the rest of the night.”

Dwight’s struggles, due to his shoulder, have severely hurt the Lakers scoring opportunities. While they rank 6th in the NBA in points per game, outside of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash there are no consistent and reliable scorers. Earl Clark is certainly developing but he is not enough to dominate the game the way a healthy Dwight can in the paint. When asked about any update regarding his shoulder he replied:

“I’m trying not to make [the injury] even worse.” When asked how long doctors say it might be before the pain goes away, Howard sighed.

“No timetable,” he replied.

Even with no timetable for Dwight to become healthy, something that he has visibly lacked is effort. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register gave an analysis of Dwight’s effort on the floor versus Miami. It caused Steve Nash to snap on the floor, something he rarely does not matter who you are.

Nash drove and was trapped on the baseline by two Miami defenders, Udonis Haslem about to force Nash out of bounds and Mario Chalmers also there between Nash and Howard, who stood deep in the paint. The other three Lakers had the floor spaced the way Mike D’Antoni wants, all behind the 3-point arc, so no other Heat player could get to Howard.

Howard had time to stand there, stare at Nash and the two Heat players, hold his arms up and wave them.

So Howard’s eyes and arms were working. Tragically, his legs and feet were not.

This has happened time and time again when Howard is on the floor. Either he will roll somewhat, roll a little, or stop and fully expect the ball from the person dribbling.

Howard just stood there instead of trying to help Nash create a passing lane – and get himself an easy dunk, as Nash gestured afterward would’ve happened if Howard just did something besides stand there.

Dwight has always been the type of player that has been handed the ball. From high school, to Orlando, to even here in L.A., he has been given the ball when he wanted it. Now, the topic is not so much as Dwight being given the ball. Instead it is him making an effort to go and get it. When Howard is looked at from that perspective, he has not done such for quite a while. Like Coach Mike D’Antoni has repeated the “ball finds energy”. Earl Clark provides energy night in and night out, therefore he is having a breakout season despite barely playing from October until December. I’m not at all saying Dwight would have a breakout year by being active, but I am saying he would be more efficient and effective even with his injuries by being more like Earl.

If Howard really lusts for individual offense so badly, why not try harder to get the ball? Even if he can’t explode like he did when he fully trusted his body, at least try to do something. Just look at how well things went even with makeshift non-Nash point guards for Jordan Hill – with a herniated disk in his back and other injuries before requiring hip surgery – when he simply rolled hard off picks.

Dwight seems to be getting in his own way more than anyone else. When he first arrived, he seemed thrilled to work pick and rolls with Nash and with Kobe. Now, it looks like all of the media’s criticism has gotten to his head about it. He so badly wants the ball in the post, instead of rolling to the basket for easier shots, that it leaves you scratching your head.

Howard has always been more of a pick and roll big man than a traditional NBA center who plays with their back to the basket. It’s just another one of the reasons why it’s baffling that he is acting differently now. If Dwight wants to salvage this season, then it will take more adjustments in his style of play than ever before.