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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers already have lost more games this season (29) than they have in any full season since 2007, and big man Dwight Howard says he knows his inconsistent energy and struggles with conditioning have cost his team some of them.
"You've got to have energy and I want to bring that energy every night," Howard said in a revealing interview Saturday afternoon. "That's my job. They count on me to be that guy. I just know how much more effective I will be when I'm in better shape. And, unfortunately, it's cost us a lot of games."
Howard said his conditioning has improved throughout the season, but he's still "not even close" to where he wants to be, and where he once was before undergoing back surgery in the offseason.
"I knew that would be a process. The better shape I'm in, the more active I can be and the more I'm able to do on the floor," he said. "But it was a struggle at first because I just didn't have it in the tank, especially on defense."
Howard took six months completely off from basketball after having surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back last spring. He didn't resume physical activity until right before training camp began in October.
"I didn't have a chance to really get in good shape," he said. "And then it's hard trying to get in shape during the season, playing a lot of minutes and traveling. It's very tough. But I'm trying to do the best I can with what I have and work on my conditioning every day."
Howard admitted he's had to pace himself on both the offensive and defensive ends this season and that has hurt his team.
"I don't want to pace myself. I want to be able to go all out, but you've got to be in great shape to do that," he said. "I know what I've been able to do in the past and I know right now I'm not able to do that for a whole game.
"That comes with time. But I'm not going to get discouraged. Once I get tired I'm going to ask for a blow, take a break, then get back out there and go hard again."
The Lakers' depth in the front court is lacking after a season-ending injury to Jordan Hill (hip) and a foot injury that will keep Pau Gasol out at least another month. Howard admits he's going to continue to pace himself and hold back at times.
"There's no subs so until I get in great shape, some times I have to make sure I don't risk a dumb foul because I'm out of shape or fatigued," he said. "I usually can play 45-48 minutes without getting tired. Now after five possessions I'm winded. But all that stuff will come. Hopefully, if we continue to do what we've been doing, by the time we get to the playoffs, I'll be in pretty good shape."
Howard said he feels better right now than he has all season. It's shown in his play as well. He had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Wednesday's win over the Boston Celtics and 19 points and 16 rebounds in Friday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni attributed that to Howard's improved conditioning, as well as a renewed commitment to trying to run and execute a pick-and-roll-based offense.
"He's getting in better shape," D'Antoni said of Howard. "A lot of times what happens when you get tired, you just want to go down and say, 'Just give me the ball because I'm too tired to go get it.' I think that was happening earlier. But now he's getting in a little bit better shape; he's getting a better relationship with Steve (Nash) on the pick and roll. Now he understands that he can be in every play. We want him in every play and will be a big factor in them."
And when Howard plays well and brings energy to the defensive end of the floor -- where he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year -- it can have a trickle-down effect to the rest of the team.
"He's our leader on the defensive end," Lakers forward Earl Clark said. "He can be so dominant when he's rebounding and blocking shots, we'll just follow suit. It makes everybody want to play hard."
Howard said getting some extra rest over the All-Star break helped, as has a new diet he started over the break.
"I'm just making sure I don't eat as much candy and sugar so I can get in good shape," he said. "Back when I was able to play 48 minutes, I could eat anything. But now I can't."
Just how big of a candy lover is he?
"Am I a big candy person? That's an understatement," he joked. "My pantry is full of candy. Skittles just sent me 30 pounds of Skittles. I have a nightstand full of every candy you could think of. Skittles, blow pops, Laffy Taffy, Reese's Pieces, Kit Kats, all types of candy was in the drawer. They had to clear it out."