Lakers try to put drama behind them as they return from long trip

The Lakers returned home, weary after their longest trip of the season. But despite losses at Phoenix, Boston and Miami, the team pulled out four wins in seven games.

“We’re playing better. We’re playing smarter,” Kobe Bryant said Monday.

Dwight Howard went down on the first stop of the trip in Phoenix, aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Lakers (24-28) won three straight without him, then Pau Gasol was lost for six to eight weeks because of a foot injury.

“Every time we’re playing well — we find a rhythm of how we want to go about things — it seems like we get hit with another injury,” Bryant said. “Now we need to find another way to go about it. It’s a moving target right now.”

On Monday, Gasol appeared to be in good spirits, standing on a pair of giant crutches. The Lakers forward confirmed he has no plans to have surgery on the torn plantar fascia in his right foot.

The Lakers had their share of drama on the Grammy trip. Bryant rankled Howard with comments that the team didn’t have time to wait for the center’s shoulder to heal. Howard responded: “He’s not a doctor. I’m not a doctor. So that’s his opinion.”

On Monday, Bryant reiterated his comments were taken out of context.

“It’s conflict that is actually manufactured. To me the quotes and the things that I said — I didn’t say anything wrong,” Bryant said. “I wasn’t hammering him over the head or taking a run at him.”

Bryant said he even pulled Howard aside to make sure he understood “it’s nothing.”

Howard’s shoulder

Howard said he’s still struggling with his right shoulder after playing 41 minutes against Miami on Sunday.

“I was in a lot of pain after the game,” he said. “I’ll just try to play through it.”

Howard and Bryant will head to Houston this weekend as starters for the West All-Star team. Howard said he has every intention to play despite his shoulder injury.

The Lakers play at home Tuesday against Phoenix, then against the Clippers on Thursday before the All-Star break.

“If I re-aggravate my shoulder in these next two games, I’ll probably play just play a couple of minutes [in the All-Star game] and sit the rest of it out,” Howard said.

Speaking up

If there was one thing the Lakers did agree on, it’s that too much was being said publicly — by them.

“We have a circus around us most of the time,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Things should be kept in-house, but we haven’t mastered that trick yet.”

Steve Nash also downplayed a brief, on-court incident Sunday when he and Howard argued over a poorly executed play.

“When I came in this morning, I didn’t think I’d have to answer questions about that,” Nash said. “I didn’t think it was a big issue.”

The Lakers didn’t win a road game in January, so their recent trip was an improvement. “The basketball is better,” D’Antoni said.

Nash too is encouraged.

“I think we had a decent road trip. We’re going to keep working and try to find a way to figure this out,” Nash said. “I think we have a lot to play for still.”