Dwight Howard missed seven of 14 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter… (Harry How / Getty Images )
The Lakers fell below .500 once again with a loss Sunday night to the Orlando Magic at Staples Center.
Dwight Howard, playing his former team for the first time in his career, struggled from the line, hitting just nine of 21 attempts. After the loss, Howard deflected most questions about his free-throw shooting but talked about the Lakers in general.
"As a team, our effort wasn't there. We have to start the game with energy and play the whole game the same way," he said. "We didn't do that tonight and they capitalized on it and they got a win."
Later, Howard singled himself out to say he always plays with a full effort.
"I play hard every night, no matter whether I'm smiling or not," he said. "This is who I am. I'm not going to change."
So if the team didn't play hard, in Howard's estimation, but he did, who exactly is he referring to?
Kobe Bryant played almost 39 minutes, scoring 34 points with seven rebounds and five assists. Bryant struggled defensively, with Arron Afflalo having a tremendous game (30 points on 18 shot attempts), but is "lack of effort" something normally associated with Bryant?
Metta World Peace is another player who seems to put in the effort, regardless of result. The Lakers' point guards (Darius Morris and Chris Duhon) are just filling in as best they can with Steve Nash (leg) and Steve Blake (abdominal strain) on the mend.
Howard doesn't sound like he's referring to a bench player such as Antawn Jamison or Jodie Meeks. His comment specifically mentioned how the team needs to "start the game."
That would leave Pau Gasol, who has struggled to produce next to Howard this season. Against the Magic, Gasol scored 11 points on 11 shots in almost 29 minutes.
On the season, Gasol is shooting just 42% from the field. Coach Mike D'Antoni benched him in the fourth quarter, in favor of Jamison.
"We're just to be a more dynamic team. We're slow right now," D'Antoni said. "Just athletically we're struggling. We're struggling with young teams that just run up and down."
Will Nash make Howard and Gasol somehow fit together or do the Lakers have a roster problem in which size and strength are getting beaten by speed, athleticism . . . and, if you ask Howard, effort?
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.