- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Dwight Howard says he's made some "epic" April Fool's jokes in the past, but the Los Angeles Lakers' center was being completely earnest when he looked at the eight remaining games on his team's schedule.
"We need every game," Howard said after practice Monday. "We just got to come out and play with the right intensity, the right effort for 48 minutes and we should win all these games."
The longest winning streak the Lakers have embarked on all season was five in December. To take their win against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday and extend it to a 9-0 run to close the regular season might seem unlikely, but the Lakers do have some home cooking in their favor. Seven of L.A.'s remaining games are at Staples Center, with one of them being a "road" game against the Clippers.
"I think it's great, but at the same time these teams are not going to come in here and lay down," Howard said. "They're going to come out and try to kill us and we have to be ready for that. We have to come out and (give) the first blow and go from there."
The stretch starts Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks, a team that trails the Lakers by just 1½ games in the standings. Dallas has won four of its past five games and the Lakers have lost four of their past six as both teams are chasing Utah and Houston for the final playoff spots in the West.
If the Lakers are to run the table, they might have to do it without Steve Nash, at least for part of it.
Nash did not practice Monday and had to exit early in both of the Lakers' past two games, against Milwaukee and Sacramento, because of a strained right hip that also is causing discomfort in his right hamstring.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said Nash was "doubtful, probably" to play against Dallas.
"He's not completely out of the woods," D'Antoni said. "We're going to be a little cautious with it."
Howard allowed that Nash's injury, combined with Metta World Peace being out at least another five weeks following knee surgery and Jordan Hill also sidelined following hip surgery, could get in the way of the team's goal to finish 9-0.
"That's the one thing that could stop a team from making the run that they want to make during the season, is injuries," Howard said. "Unfortunately we've been hit with injuries all year. It just seems like every time somebody got healthy, somebody else went down. But that's when somebody else has to step up and play and play big. We just have to trust each other more and hold each other accountable."
The player the Lakers will go to in Nash's absence is Steve Blake.
Blake had 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, two rebounds and one assist as he filled in for Nash and played 32 minutes against Sacramento.
The Lakers will have Kobe Bryant in the lineup. D'Antoni said Bryant practiced Monday and managed the pain from the bone spur in his left foot.
"My foot's f----- up, but other than that, I'm all right," Bryant said after the Sacramento game.
Bryant did not speak to reporters after practice Monday.
Howard was asked if Bryant's recent statement to NBA.com that he would "in all likelihood" decide this summer whether to retire after next season had any impact on the All-Star center's decision to sign a long-term extension with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent July 1.
"The only thing that matters right now is this moment and the eight games that we have left," Howard said. "We can't focus on next year. There's no need to talk about next year."
Dwight Howard says he's made some "epic" April Fool's jokes in the past, but the Los Angeles Lakers center was being completely earnest when he looked at the eight remaining games on his team's schedule.