To add injury to insult, Dwight Howard left the contest with pain in his shoulder. Midway through the fourth quarter, Howard had his shot blocked by Shannon Brown, and re-aggravated the torn labrum in his right shoulder. He did not return after making his way to the bench.
It’s the third time that Howard has been forced to leave the court because of this injury. He first hurt his shoulder on Jan.4 against the Los Angeles Clippers. He missed the next three games, but re-injured the area against the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan.23. He didn’t finish that game, but didn’t miss any time afterwards.
Howard told reporters that it was the worst pain he felt since he originally suffered the injury.
"It's real sore," he said. "Everything on (the right) side (of my body) is hurting pretty bad right now."
If the big man is hurt as badly as he was the first time, there’s a chance he’ll be forced to sit out the next few games. He stayed off the court for a whole week after he injured his shoulder against the Clippers.
"I'm going to try as much as I can but I don't want to cause more damage to my shoulder," Howard said. "I don't want to (miss any games), but we'll see."
Kobe Bryant didn’t seem too concerned about Howard’s early exit. The shooting guard had 17 points and nine assists in the loss to Phoenix.
"I'm not worried about it," said Bryant. "It is going to be an all-season thing. That's how those types of injuries are with the labrum. I've had them before. Lamar (Odom) when he was here had them before. It's one of those things when you get banged like that going up, you're going to get that stinging sensation. That's just how it's going to be."
L.A. can ill afford to lose Howard for any significant period of time. He has underachieved, by his standards, this season, but the Lakers haven’t been able to win without him. Los Angeles is 0-3 when Howard doesn’t play. The team was outscored 19-8 after the center left the game on Wednesday night.
If Howard is forced to sit, Pau Gasol will likely take his place in the starting lineup. Since recovering from a concussion, Gasol has come off the bench for eight consecutive games.
The Lakers visit the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.