The Lakers’ season all comes down to Wednesday. By the end of the night, they will either have secured the seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs, or they will have been eliminated.
Without Kobe Bryant on the court, Dwight Howard knows that the team will be looking to him for leadership.
“There’s no pressure,” Howard said. “We understand the importance of the game but we just need to go play and be free. We don’t need to put pressure on ourselves. Just go have fun and win the game.”
Howard will need to shoulder a lot of the load on his already sore back. He acknowledged that recently there have been good days, and there have been some bad ones.
“It takes a while to recover,” he said of his back surgery a year ago to repair a herniated disk. “I’m doing the best I can with what I have. There’s days where I wake up and my back is really tight and sore and there’s days where it feels good. But that’s not going to change right now.”
How is it feeling Tuesday, the day before the biggest game of the regular season?
“I’m OK,” he said. “Very sore yesterday and after [Sunday’s win over San Antonio] but there’s nothing I can really do about it. That’s going to be there. The position that I play and how I play, guys are always going to find ways to attack my back.”
Howard said he thinks players sometimes intentionally push him in the back during games.
“Yeah. They don’t purposely try to hurt it, but they’re going to hit me and find ways to hit me,” he said. “There’s nothing I can really do about it but play through it.”
Howard said that, all things considered, he thinks he’s had a strong season.
“I will say that I don’t think a lot of people really understand the severity of a back injury and the fact that I came back and the fact that I look like I’m 100%,” he said. “The back surgery is probably the worst surgery that you can have as a basketball player and for me to come back and play the way I’ve been playing is a blessing and people wouldn’t understand that from the outside looking in. But for me not being able to walk, then getting on the walker, then learning how to do all of that stuff again -- to now, I think its a blessing and it’s all about hard work. Everything that I did up until this point is hard work.”
Because of what he’s been through, Howard said he has a lot of sympathy for Bryant as the superstar guard recovers from surgery Saturday to repair his torn left Achilles’ tendon.
Howard and Jodie Meeks went to Bryant’s Newport Beach home on Monday to visit Bryant.
“He’s doing pretty good,” Howard said. “We went up there and sat with him for a couple of hours and just talked. Our main thing was just being there for him. Sometimes sitting in the house all day gets lonely.”
Howard said the visit lifted Bryant’s spirits.
“I think that it was good for him,” he said. “Just having teammates who come check up on you, it means a lot. It shows him that we care and it’s not all about the things that have happened and things that have been said. We want to be there for him. It’s a tough time. You’re down, you’re out and you want to have people who stick close to you and we want to be close.”
The Lakers center acknowledged that he has learned a lot from Bryant this season, including the need to always stay focused on the immediate task at hand.
He demonstrated that skill at Tuesday’s practice when asked if Wednesday could potentially be his last game as a Laker.
“Wow. OK, that’s a trick question,” he said. “Listen, tomorrow is the last regular-season game for us and then we go into the playoffs.”
Howard added that he has the utmost confidence in his team.
“We believe that we can do something special,” Howard said. “If we get into the playoffs, we don’t fear anybody.”