HANG TIME, Texas — According to the medical reports, it’s a platelet-rich therapy injection in his injured right shoulder that could allow Dwight Howard to rejoin the Lakers for today’s game in suburban Detroit against the Pistons.
But more than anything that comes out of a syringe, it could be a shot of Kobe Bryant that’s putting the All-Star center back into the L.A. lineup.
Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register calls it the Kobe Code — punching the clock, finding a way, doing your job.
Bryant made clear after Howard’s last aggravation in Phoenix on Wednesday that he expects Howard to deal with it, even though Howard missed three games previously and now another game Friday.
“It’s one of those things when you get banged like that going up, you’re going to get that stinging sensation,” Bryant said. “That’s just how it’s going to be.”
Bryant knows from experience.
Bryant tore the labrum in his right shoulder in 2003. He did it in an awkward way also — though more uncool than unsound, basketball-wise: Bryant tried to finish a dunk while being fouled by Minnesota center Rasho Nesterovic and rammed the ball against the front rim, wrenching his shoulder.
It happened in the second game of the playoffs, and Bryant played the next 10 games with the limitation as the Lakers’ quest for a fourth consecutive NBA title failed. That was the season Bryant played all 82 games despite various injuries, averaging a still-career-high 41.5 minutes — and he averaged a still-career-high 32.1 points in the playoffs despite the shoulder injury.
In other words, what’s a little pain in your shoulder compared to the utter agony of the Lakers missing the playoffs?
There’s precious little time now for the Lakers to keep shrugging it all off and insisting that things will only get better with a bit more patience. The halfway mark of the schedule has already faded in the rearview mirror and the sirens are blaring louder than a five-alarm fire.
How many times does one team get say this is the week when it makes a stand? The last time the Lakers went out on the road was supposed to be the cure-all, but they promptly got slapped and swept in Toronto, Cleveland and Memphis.
Then a three-game winning streak, with supposedly a statement win over OKC in the middle, was going to be the springboard for the current seven-game Grammy Trip. But blowing a 13-point lead in the opener at Phoenix has the Lakers once more as exposed as Milli Vanilli.
Thus, here comes Howard back after missing just one game, not just to put some size in the middle of the lineup, but perhaps to show that he’s got the spine that Bryant demands of himself and his teammates. This is about earning respect.
Remember, while the short-term goal is still to do a full-Lazarus and somehow make the playoffs, there is still the long-term future to consider. As the 34-year-old Bryant pushes himself to the limit playing maximum minutes in pursuit of that sixth NBA title that would pull him even with Michael Jordan, he’s got to know that his wingman Howard is made of the right stuff. While Kobe and Shaquille O’Neal dueled and shot spitballs over petty personality disputes, neither ever doubted that the other would lace up his sneakers and play hurt with the season in the balance. How much faith would Bryant have in a new five-year contract given next summer to Howard if he hasn’t laid it all out there to be playing in the spring?
Now the season is on the line, as it has been from the moment that the Lakers first fell on their faces out of the starting gate. Only this time it’s for real.
So Howard will be back in the lineup playing in pain, at least in part because the misery that could come from Kobe for not playing might be felt far longer.