Dwight Howard wants his critics to relax a little. (Harry How / Getty Images )
NEW YORK -- Dwight Howard has a message for anybody criticizing him.
The Lakers center wanted to remind everybody he was still not 100%.
"I wasn't even supposed to be playing until January and I'm playing now. What do you expect?" he said after the Lakers' shoot-around Thursday afternoon. They play the New York Knicks tonight.
Howard has been criticized because of his inaccurate free-throw shooting and also for some subpar games on offense, most recently a three-for-nine shooting effort Tuesday in the Lakers' 100-94 loss to Cleveland.
Howard reminded people who "expected me to be high-flying" that he had back surgery last April to repair a herniated disk.
"I'm not in terrific shape," he said. "I'm still working through that. I have a long way to go. Only thing I can do is continue to play as hard as I can."
Meanwhile, the Lakers will be without Pau Gasol a sixth consecutive game because of knee tendinitis. They are 1-4 without him and searching for answers.
Two Lakers greats -- Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson-- even had a recent phone conversation, Bryant revealed Thursday. The presumed topic: what to do with the Lakers, who are 9-13 overall, 2-7 on the road.
Johnson has been a vocal critic of Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni's push-the-pace offense. Johnson also wants D'Antoni to create more activity for Gasol near the basket.
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