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Unimpressive Dwight Howard not helping his image

Dec 28, 2012, 12:02 PM EDT

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Getty Images

Dwight Howard will be more than happy to tell you how he came back early from back surgery to help the Lakers. Doctors told him not to play until January but he pushed through pain so he could be out there from opening day for the Lakers.

He’s clearly not yet 100 percent physically. He’s not the explosive Howard on the boards and on defense that we remember from Orlando. His numbers are not bad — 17.5 points and 11.8 rebounds a game — but he has gone from guy who was talked about as an MVP candidate a few years ago to a good player.

But it’s more than that, he looks lethargic at times.

He looks lost in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, like he’s unsure where to be in the sets. He looks like a guy thinking his way through the game, not just playing and reacting.

And his energy is down — watch how the Lakers energy picks up when Howard sits and Jordan Hill enters. Hill tries to make up for his lack of polished skills with effort.

All of this comes back to Howard, who is starting to take heat in Los Angeles for his lethargic play. Look at what Kevin Ding wrote in the Orange County Register (you really need to read the entire thing, it’s brilliant).

“Dwight Howard is basically Kosta Koufos” was the message I got from one NBA insider midway through the Lakers’ loss Wednesday night in Denver, referring to the Nuggets’ largely anonymous center….

This is what Howard is allowing to happen: As more substandard games go by without noticeable rust dropping off, the image repair that was supposed to happen this season is twisting into reputation tarnishing.

And that last bit is the key.

Howard thrashed his national reputation in the ugly way he pushed his way out of Orlando. But this is America, you can thrash your reputation pretty good but if you come back hard and win people tend to forget the past and move on. Just ask Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

But Howard’s play of late is only adding to his reputation, he looks like a guy who can coast and is happy to let Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash take the burden of leadership.

You should hear Los Angeles sports talk radio (which is often all Lakers and the Clippers with their 15-game win streak are almost ignored) where Howard’s play is getting ripped. He is not what people expected.

Howard has been good. But the Lakers didn’t trade for him to be good, they traded for him to be a force of nature. To fight to get things done. Right now he’s not doing that.

People are noticing.

And that is not helping Howard turn around his reputation after Orlando.

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