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Dwight Howard fires back at Kobe, says he has to watch out for himself

Feb 7, 2013, 1:00 PM EDT

Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard AP

Well Dwight Howard, you wanted to be the man on a bigger stage. Welcome to all that entails.

Howard has been banged up this season and while he’s been good he has not been the dominant force Lakers fans expected. And now they need him to be — the Lakers are trying to make a playoff push and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of Dwight Howard to be a leader with Pau Gasol out injured for six weeks (at least).

It falls on Howard’s shoulder, the one with a torn labrum he has struggled to play through. And the bad back that hasn’t been right all season. He’s been out the last three games because of the shoulder. Kobe Bryant decided to push Howard in a very Kobe and very public way, saying the team needs him and to just suck it up.

Howard didn’t like that at all, and shot back at shootaround in Boston Thursday. Howard went through shootaround but is a game-time decision tonight. Here is what Howard said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com. On Kobe telling him to play:

“That’s his opinion. That’s it. He’s not a doctor, I’m not a doctor.”’

What really boiled Howard’s blood was calling his competitiveness into question.

“”I want to play, I mean, why wouldn’t I want to play? But, at the same time, this is my career, this is my future, this is my life. I can’t leave that up to anybody else because nobody else is going to take care of me. So, if people are pissed off that I don’t play or if I do play, whatever it may be, so what? This is my career. If I go down, then what? Everybody’s life is going to go on. I don’t want to have another summer where I’m rehabbing and trying to get healthy again. I want to come back and have another great year. That’s what I want to do.”

Kobe did backtrack a little at shootaround, saying he doesn’t know how Howard’s body feels.

Howard has said recently that he tried to play through back issues last year and it made them worse and forced the surgery he had and that he is still struggling to overcome. Howard said he learned a lesson from that.

And Howard knows he is a free agent next summer, he’s looking at a max deal. He’ll get that so long as the injuries don’t hold teams back.

For his first seven years in the league Howard was basically injury free, missing just four games. But the last couple years have been a struggle for the 27-year-old physically and he is struggling to deal with this.

My feeling is Kobe’s message got through, Howard will play against the Celtics. But how many more games before he aggravates that shoulder again? Can he really play through it and be effective? Can he lead the Lakers on the defensive end?

As I have said before, at the start of the season it was a lock Howard would re-sign with the Lakers this summer. Now I think it’s still likely, but that lock is open and other teams are going to try to push through that door.

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