- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- To borrow a line from those great ESPN “30 for 30” teasers: What if I told you Dwight Howard would miss zero games because of his surgically repaired back in the first half of the Los Angeles Lakers' 2012-13 season and the team would be 17-24, seven games under .500, at the midway point?
You wouldn't believe it, right?
The Lakers entered the past offseason as an old and slow team but acquired one of the top 10 players in the league, a physical specimen unlike any other, yet here they are getting worse by the day.
Thought Sunday's loss to the Toronto Raptors was bad, when Howard got an unfair shake in the first half by picking up a phantom technical foul (that has since been rescinded by the league) and Kobe Bryant went 10-for-32 shooting and took all the blame?
How about Monday's version of events, when Howard managed just 8 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers and 5 fouls in 30 minutes? He should have come out like a man on fire in making up for the Raptors game, but after the Lakers' 12-point loss to the Bulls he placed the blame anywhere but on himself.
Here's how Howard explained away the result in his postgame interview:
Question: Why couldn't he get going?
Howard: "They made it tough. I missed some shots early, didn't get an opportunity to go to work like I wanted to. But it will be OK."
How do you fix it?
Howard: "Just got to stay together, keep believing. We can't quit on each other. I know how tough it's been for us, but we got to stick together. I hate what we're going through, but it's got to be for a reason. I don't know the reason right now, but everything happens for a reason. And whatever we're going through, we can't lose faith. We just got to stay positive."
Why didn't he have a bounce-back effort like the last time he was ejected from a game, against Denver, then dominated against Portland?
Howard: "Look at the stat sheet."
"No, look at the stat sheet."
"Look at the stat sheet."
Then a reporter brought up Howard's shot total of five, of which he made two. (Howard shot 4-for-8 from the free throw line, also, so the meager total of five shots is a bit skewed.)
How can you get more shots?
Howard: "You guys know. It's simple. Play inside-out."
What can you do to play inside-out?
Howard: "There's not nothing I can do. Just continue to play. Not get frustrated. As hard as it is, I can't get frustrated."
Will playing inside-out fix things?
Howard: "We just got to play the right way. All I can tell you guys is we just got to keep believing. We can't lose faith in each other. It's tough. The team that we are, we're not built to lose like this. It's frustrating, but we just got to find a way to stick together.”
He continued: "Like I said earlier, everything happens for a reason and there's a reason why we're going through all this failure right now. It seems like the harder we try, the faster we fall. We just got to figure out a way to stay strong throughout all the crap that's keeping us down. It's tough. It's tough as a team. It's tough as individuals, because we want to do so good. But it's frustrating. The only thing we can do is keep looking up and try to pull ourselves up."
The perplexing part is that Howard said the team needs to keep its faith in one another in one breath, then in the next breath he vaguely referred to the stat sheet that saw him go 2-for-5 ... while Bryant shot 7-for-22, extending Bryant's three-game slump to a 25-for-79 total from the field.
Howard didn't explicitly blame Bryant, the way Kobe asked the media to do Sunday, but he might as well have.
Words shouldn't matter at this point. We all know actions are the only way to get the Lakers turned in the right direction -- actions such as protecting the basketball (L.A. had 16 turnovers to Chicago's eight), making shots (L.A. went 3-for-17 from the 3-point line while Chicago was 9-for-17 from 3), sharing the basketball (the Bulls had 25 assists to the Lakers' 15).
But if you're going to talk, it's better not to contradict yourself.
Pau Gasol, a two-time champion with these Lakers and four-time All-Star, had as much reason to whine as any Lakers player (and he did a little) after being reduced to a bench role, but he let his 15 points and 12 rebounds in just 26 minutes say so much more.
When reporters tried to pry quotes out of Gasol about how upset he was with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, he kept turning the conversation toward the team instead of himself.
"It starts by us being on the same page, having each other’s back, just being supportive of each other," Gasol said. "Not making excuses. Not pointing fingers. And just owning up to our responsibilities and wanting to get out of this and having the pride necessary that it takes to utilize our talents and go beat the opponent no matter who it is, no matter where we are."
When will Howard own up to his responsibilities? When will he play with the consistency that will be necessary for the Lakers to have a chance to spin things around?
D'Antoni didn't have an answer when asked if he had any explanation for Howard's inconsistency.
"No," D'Antoni said.
Howard's first season in a Lakers uniform is halfway over and there are still more questions than answers.
Will Howard re-sign as a free agent at the end of the season? After a half-season of evidence, will the Lakers want to re-sign him and make him the face of the franchise moving forward once Bryant retires? Can this season possibly take a turn for the better? Or, maybe more aptly, can this season get any worse?
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
41dMatt Walks, ESPN.com