HANG TIME, Texas — The Lakers open a critical three-game road trip in Toronto and Dwight Howard plays 17 minutes.
That’s one for every year of his maturity.
If it wasn’t finally evident with last season’s antics in Orlando that the 7-footer is more senior prom than senior lead of a real contender, then he offered up the latest proof.
Howard made one field goal, scored five points and grabbed two rebounds before he was ejected with 1:18 left in the second quarter when he and the Raptors’ Alan Anderson were hit with a double technical.
Dwight the Innocent walked away with his palms outstretched, wondering what in the world he had done to deserve this, much like the teenager caught smoking in the boys’ bathroom.
“They didn’t explain,” Howard said when asked why he picked up the second technical foul. “I didn’t do anything to get ejected.”
Howard’s teammates were quick to come to his defense.
“What’s a player supposed to do when a guy, he’s confronted, trying to walk back up the court?” Kobe Bryant said to ESPNLA.com’s Dave McMenamin. “An official told me, ‘Well, he should just walk away.’ I said, ‘Which direction should he (walk)?’ Should he turn around and just walk to the bench? He’s walking down to the other end of the court, to get back on defense. There’s nothing he can do. A guy steps up to him, puts a forearm in his chest, what’s he supposed to do? You say one thing, now it’s a double technical. Now, I just don’t agree with that.”
What is harder and harder for a lot of us to agree with is the notion that at 27 Howard is ever going to change his stripes from being talented big man and a good-time frontrunner. When all is going well, he leads the cheers and cracks the jokes. When there is the slightest hint of difficulty, he simply cracks.
We won’t get into a frame-by-frame analysis of the video replays that just might show Howard delivering a hefty shove in the back to Anderson as they come off the lane following a Metta World Peace elbow. That second technical could be debatable and perhaps the Lakers will even get it wiped off Howard’s record with an appeal to the league.
But Howard earned himself the first technical first quarter when he went too far whining to referee Ken Mauer following a missed layup.
If the Lakers aren’t already deader than disco, then they embarked on this three-game mini-trip as their latest self-proclaimed springboard back from zombie land. Each loss is not just another on the wrong side of the ledger, but knocks another day off a shrinking calendar. Now the Lakers must win at Chicago on the end of a back-to-back Monday or squeeze out a victory in the Memphis Grind House just to avoid another losing road trip.
The Lakers need Howard on the court and he needs to do whatever it takes to stay out there — keeping his composure, knowing when to back off from complaining and not putting himself into a position where a questionable double-technical might send him to the showers.
But that would require Howard to accept the burden that comes from being a franchise foundation and accept reality, hardly his strengths.
Earlier in the week Howard proclaimed, “When we play the way we played the last two games, I don’t see anybody beating us.”
That was following back-to-back home wins over the Cavs and Bucks. Sheesh.
The voting may show that Howard is once again a starter in the NBA All-Star Game next month, but that says more about the cache and star appeal of the Lakers than his own play. He has numbers, yes. But he also has a free throw percentage that would embarrass blindfolded shooters and has rarely looked dominant.
Blame it on coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Blame it on the referees. Blame it on global climate change.
Just don’t dare blame it on Howard. He can’t take the increasing heat.