The Los Angeles Lakers’ all-important seven-game road trip started off by adding insult — a 92-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns after blowing a 13-point fourth-quarter lead — to injury, with Dwight Howard aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Howard was blocked by the Suns’ Shannon Brown with 6:57 remaining in the fourth as he tried to bring the ball from his waist up to the hoop following an offensive rebound and went down to the floor in pain.
Howard checked out of the game and did not return as the Suns finished on a 19-8 run without him. Howard’s shoulder will be re-evaluated Thursday after the team flies to Minneapolis and his availability for Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves will be determined.
“It’s real sore,” Howard told reporters after icing his shoulder and applying kinesiology tape to the joint following the game. “Everything on (the right) side (of my body) is hurting pretty bad right now.”
Howard originally injured his shoulder during a Jan. 4 game against the Los Angeles Clippers and sat out three games to try to strengthen the muscles surrounding his shoulder. He re-injured it in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last week and sat out the second half, but did not miss any subsequent games.
The All-Star center said Wednesday’s aggravation was the worst pain he’s had since the original injury occurred against the Clippers, and he will have to consider resting again to help it heal.
“I’m going to try as much as I can but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” said Howard, who finished with nine points and 14 rebounds in 29 minutes against Phoenix. “I don’t want to (miss any games), but we’ll see.”
When Howard was asked whether he would have to consider surgery to repair his shoulder, the big man replied, “Not right now.”
Kobe Bryant said he has played through shoulder injuries in the past and it will be an adjustment that Howard has to make.
“I’m not worried about it,” Bryant said. “It is going to be an all-season thing. That’s how those types of injuries are with the labrum. I’ve had them before. Lamar (Odom) when he was here had them before. It’s one of those things when you get banged like that going up, you’re going to get that stinging sensation. That’s just how it’s going to be.”
What Bryant was worried about was how the Lakers performed defensively in the fourth quarter without Howard, allowing the Suns to score 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting (68.8 percent), while outscoring the Lakers 10-4 in points in the paint.
“We played well defensively outside of a stretch at the end of the ballgame when we let (Michael) Beasley get to his strong hand and get all the way to the rim with no support,” Bryant said. “That’s not acceptable. We had been playing solid defense all night long.”
Beasley scored 10 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“They started getting to the rack a little too easy,” Howard said. “There was really no defensive presence in the paint, so Beasley got opportunities to just go down the lane and finish. So it was tough to watch.”
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni hoped that Howard would not be watching from the sidelines for too much longer as he deals with the injury.
“I think it’s the same as always in terms of it hurts a lot, and hopefully by (Thursday) the pain goes away and he can play the next game,” D’Antoni said. “It’s my understanding that it’s something that will hurt, go away, and then he plays when it goes away.”
Howard, who missed the final portion of last season in Orlando because of debilitating back pain, said that his shoulder injury is “nothing” compared to his back injury that required offseason surgery.
“Two years of having injuries is not something that’s easy to deal with, but I won’t lose my spirit and I just got to continue to do whatever I can to get my shoulder strong,” Howard said.
With the loss, the Lakers fell to 20-26 and are four games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.