The Lakers' Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol look on from the bench in the… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Dwight Howard's back was hurting last season. Badly.
Then something else happened: He couldn't feel his left leg.
"What a lot of people don't know is when I hurt my back, it affected my nerves to the point where my whole left leg just went dead basically," the Lakers center said Thursday. "I couldn't do a calf raise."
It's not a completely uncommon condition, because nerves run from the spine to the leg and a disk can impinge the whole root. But Howard needed about two months before he could lift his calf after undergoing back surgery in April.
He would recover fully in about five months, he was told, but received solid feedback in August.
"When I went to see the doctor right before I was traded, he said, 'Most guys don't recover as fast as you did, especially when it affects your nerve down your leg,' " Howard said. "It usually takes a year for your leg to regain strength."
Howard will not play in the Lakers' exhibition Saturday against Utah. He hoped to play in a game before the Oct. 30 season opener, though he said he would defer to longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, whom he dubbed "Father Vitti."
After a light practice Thursday, Howard took part in one-on-one drills against seven-footers Robert Sacre, Greg Somogyi and Ronnie Aguilar. He had good moments and bad with the ball and without it.
He dunked on Sacre and then hit a left-handed hook over Somogyi. Defensively, Howard was lifted into the air on a pump fake by Sacre but recovered in time to block the ball forcefully out of bounds.
Shortly after that, though, Somogyi blocked Howard's shot, prompting assistant coach Darvin Ham to yell out, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."
Sacre, a second-round pick, was searching for his breath while talking about the workout against Howard.
"He's He-Man," Sacre said, adding another superhero connotation to a collection that already included Superman and, more recently, Iron Man.
In his most thorough interview about his back problems, Howard revealed he felt pain most of last season, playing only 54 games for the Orlando Magic before undergoing surgery.
"I had some issues early in the season and I just kept playing through it — some back spasms and things," he said. "I really didn't say anything. With all the stuff that was going on [his contract situation and possible trades], I just didn't want anybody thinking that I was trying to quit on my team or anything like that. Instead of me just sitting out, I just wanted to keep playing and show everybody that I was still with the team."