T.J. SIMERS

Get serious: Fun-loving Dwight Howard is not the Lakers' problem

Despite what some Lakers old-timers might say, Dwight Howard's penchant for enjoying himself doesn't diminish his intensity on the court.

Dwight Howard stood in the Lakers' locker room before the Miami game with an arm around his girlfriend.

"Judy," he said, while introducing her to everyone.

That's Judy, as in his imaginary girlfriend, as in take that, Robert Horry.

Now how can you not love a lighthearted soul, who saves his intensity for the court and believes anyone as lucky as he is to be paid playing a game, should smile all the time?

Enough already with the stuffed legends, the ex-Lakers prattling on and on about how things should be done just like they did them.

"You want a guy to be more focused," Horry said of Howard. "That's the kind of guy you want, someone who's focused, not fun-loving."

The Lakers already have that in Kobe Bryant.

But later this from Shaq at halftime on TNT about Howard: "Robert Horry is absolutely correct."

Who are they watching?

Howard is a surgically repaired work in progress, but he's beginning to become a force again. He doesn't return from back surgery as fast as he has if he's only clowning around.

And he doesn't dominate if his teammates don't get him the ball, re: the second half against the Heat in a nine-point defeat.

Shaq was as big a kid as Howard at times and knows all about not getting the ball. And though Shaq maintained on TNT he was a tough so-and-so on the court, a smile doesn't diminish the intensity that Howard is trying to bring to the court while still recovering from back surgery.

Howard threw his body at the Heat Thursday night. He was a lot more active than Shaq was on many nights, and he took a beating.

He had the Lakers ahead by a point at the half on the strength of 10 points and eight rebounds, buying time for Kobe, who would go three for 16 through three quarters.

Kobe went nuts in the fourth quarter while Howard seemed to disappear. Howard also failed to make his free throws in the end, but it wasn't because he was listening to Rihanna sing "Diamonds" before the game or asking his imaginary girlfriend to follow him so he might save her from Vic the Brick.

Howard, like an enthusiastic Matt Kemp trying to pump up his teammates before Doodger games, has lightened the mood around here.

When was the last time it looked like the Lakers were enjoying themselves?

Before the Milwaukee game Howard told a male reporter he looked like he was seven months along, and before the Cleveland game he argued basketball players were tougher than professional football players.

As "unfocused" as he might have seemed, he averaged 26.5 points and 15 rebounds in those two games.

"That's just me," he said about living life with a smile on his face. "That's what we did in high school, and we rarely lost. We'd have our quiet time, and I still do, but in the back away from everyone."

Some of those former Lakers who have become hypercritical might consider cracking a smile. What next? Kareem dropping his arm and covering his eyes on the statue outside Staples Center?

After Magic blasted the Lakers in tweets, then praised them in two defeats, he went on TV at halftime with Oklahoma City winning big, and said, "It's over for my Lakers — no playoffs, no nothing."

And then I wrote: "What happens if the Lakers beat Cleveland and then Milwaukee? Does Magic tweet the Lakers are back?"

A few hours before playing Miami, Magic tweeted: "Lakers Nation: I feel the @Lakers will definitely make the playoffs and cause some other problems for teams!"

Now that they have lost to Miami, I wonder if they are a "no-nothing" again.

Come on, shouldn't these ex-Lakers understand better than everyone it takes time to play together and there is still a half season to play?

How can you knock a team that is 2-1 since Mike D'Antoni restarted the season?

Just trying to put a smile on your faces.

I THINK it's pretty clear now based on the Manti Te'o story that any time an athlete talks about the loss of a grandparent or parent and how it motivated them to become successful, they are going to have to produce a death certificate.

SOME FOLKS feel the media didn't do their job in fact-checking the Te'o story.

But I think about the uproar when I challenged UCLA football Coach Jim Mora. I asked him about holding back against Stanford knowing it was meaningless game, which of course he did.

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit suggested I was "pathetic."

What would Herbstreit have said had I interviewed the Notre Dame linebacker and expressed skepticism that both his grandmother and girlfriend had died at almost the same time?

What if I had pressed for details about where the girlfriend had died, where he was sending flowers and how often he had seen her?

SO FAR the truth remains elusive, but it would seem Te'o is either a liar or a pathetic young man who might need help.

Ask yourself as a parent, if your son is the big man on campus, finding love online three years ago but left devastated when the woman he's never met has died, wouldn't you be concerned about the emotional stability of your child?

I KNOW this, things are finally looking up for Lane Kiffin. There were conflicting reports about trouble in the Trojans' locker room after a Sun Bowl loss.

But instead of the story picking up steam it gets lost in all the Lance Armstrong and Te'o hubbub.

I'm just surprised that no one has suggested so far that Kiffin was the mastermind behind the girlfriend hoax.

t.j.simers@latimes.com
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