10:18 PM PST, February 3, 2013
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Kobe Bryant doubled over in laughter when I asked whether he thought the day would come when Bynum played so well.
Will Bynum. A runt who plays for the Pistons. Shredded the Lakers' interior defense.
And by the way, whatever happened to that other Bynum?
He's not playing, of course, but then the guy they got for him, Dwight Howard, isn't playing either.
And the whisper coming out of the Lakers' locker room after Mike D'Antoni suggested his team had won a playoff game with Detroit was not good.
The Lakers' coaching staff apparently thinks Howard is a wimp, a baby unwilling to test his shoulder against the Pistons.
Sounds like Andrew Bynum.
D'Antoni said he didn't learn Howard wasn't going to play until he boarded the team bus for the ride to the Palace of Auburn Hills.
It's not surprising the way D'Antoni has established himself as a non-communicator, but apparently he was so taken aback by the surprise development, and his disgust was evident to others.
Here's the problem: The Lakers need everyone as they make a desperate push to find their game and make the playoffs.
And Howard appears healthy, because his arm isn't in a sling, his pain not visible, and he's still smiling.
No one can feel his pain, and some folks think a player should play through such pain because they don't feel it.
But Howard is coming off a year in which he did just that and further injured himself. It's a good reason to be cautious, but we don't even know whether Howard is doing that.
"I don't want to sit out — period," said Howard. "I know how important I can be to our team's success, but at the same time I don't want what happened last year to happen again.
"I played with a sore back as long as I could. I did everything, cracked it, popped it, had acupuncture, whatever to keep playing and I ended up hurting it really bad.
"I don't want that to happen to my shoulder."
Howard returned to Los Angeles to have blood removed from each arm, spun around a little, as he said, and then had his own blood injected into the front of the shoulder in the hopes of reaching the pain in the rear of his shoulder.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak joined Howard at the doctor's office and Howard was most appreciative.
"The Lakers' organization has done everything to help me," said Howard, while also thanking Kupchak for contacting the league office on his behalf.
Kupchak, reached by telephone, said, "There's a protocol to airing opinions or complaints with the NBA. And we've done that.
"The game has evolved and like a lot of other sports where attention is now being given to protect players, the NBA is interested in doing so as well. I don't know if they will review our concerns, but [hard fouls] have resulted in injury to one of our players."
Here's the rub, as they say in the shoulder business: He's probably going to get hurt again. And if you think the Lakers have finally found success with Howard out of the lineup, I might have some Lakers playoff tickets to sell you.
The Lakers were cruising to a win in Phoenix when Howard reinjured his shoulder and then lost. In the last two wins, the opposition has attacked the rim as they would while doing layup drills before the game.
"When Dwight is in there, they think twice about going to the rim,'' Bryant said. "They'll just shoot the ball to the ceiling hoping it goes in.''
Unfortunately, Howard is more than likely going to get hurt again. When he's on offense, he takes the ball low and tries to explode upward to the basket.
To stop him, and send him to the free-throw line, defenders like to tomahawk his arms as he brings the ball up. And ouch.
"I'm worried,'' said Bryant about the possibility of Howard getting hurt again, "because we need everybody out there playing in rhythm with 30-some games left.
"But you get hit in the shoulder like that,'' said Bryant, who has his own shoulder problems in the past, "and it's just going to go dead. And it's going to be like that for a while.''
But Howard is supposed to be Superman, or so we were told.
"The needle was kind of bent,'' joked Howard about the doctor's attempt to inject his shoulder.
But in addition to his shoulder, Howard said he's still on the mend from back surgery and has lost his legs.
He said the nerves in his legs were shot because of his back injury and recovery and they will need time to regenerate.
"I need a good summer of work,'' he said.
Summer might come early for the Lakers the way they are playing against some of the league's lowliest teams.
"The most important thing is to get rest and realize this is still the first half of the season,'' he said, his math a little off. "I know we're trying to make the playoffs, but I believe with what we have in the locker room we can still win.''
We spent the next 15 minutes arguing about that.
Howard is known for wanting to please people, although right now it would probably be hard to convince D'Antoni of that.
But it's the reason he stayed in Orlando at last year's trading deadline and why he said he now sits frustrated.
"It's tough to play at 70% with the Lakers,'' he said in acknowledging the criticism he's received for not being as dominant as he is when healthy.
"No matter what anyone says, I want to be out there, but I can't play one-handed.''
As for D'Antoni, he's now questioning Howard's toughness, after already alienating Pau Gasol.
I wonder who is next.
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