Kobe Bryant and the Lakers look to extend their winning streak, but LeBron… (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images )
Just another day at Lakers practice, where Kobe Bryant defended the franchise's reputation, Dwight Howard fought off the "he's-having-too-much-fun" criticism from Robert Horry and the Lakers continued to hope another statement victory was on the way.
Last things first, they'll get another chance Thursday against Miami after accruing all of … two? ... three? ... declarative victories this season — at Golden State, home against New York (on Christmas), and maybe/perhaps/possibly at home against Brooklyn in November (even though the Nets fired their coach recently because of poor performance).
And with Miami coming to Staples Center on Thursday, Bryant was asked about LeBron James' belief that the Heat experienced an incredibly, unknowingly difficult challenge before winning an NBA championship last season ... much more complex and intricate than whatever the Lakers have encountered.
"No one will ever be able to compare what we went through," James told reporters recently. "Even though they're not winning and they're losing a lot of games, it's still nowhere near what we went through.
"That level of magnitude was nowhere near where ours was two years ago. Nothing. Nothing compares to it."
To which Bryant replied Wednesday, "What does he want, a cookie?"
The Lakers have won 16 NBA championships and appeared in 15 other NBA Finals. As they would say in L.A., does Miami still display its division championship banners in its arena, with seven hanging from the ceiling as recently as 2011?
To be settled Thursday? Probably not. The Lakers (17-21) need the victory a lot more than Miami (24-12) despite the Heat's recent 2-5 stumble in its last seven road games before Wednesday.
Pau Gasol is expected to play against the Heat after sitting out five games because of a concussion, though he might come off the bench for now.
And Howard will still be his same happy-go-lucky self, despite some nudging from Horry in a radio interview on 710 AM.
Horry, who won three championships with the Lakers and seven overall, said Howard needed to ditch his headband and stop smiling after missing free-throw attempts. Basically, Big Shot Rob told Superman to be more serious, effective immediately.
Howard wasn't smiling after hearing what Horry said, as related to him by a reporter Wednesday.
"I'm going to continue to be me," Howard said. "This made me successful the last nine years. I'm not going to stop smiling. This is what I do for a living and if you have a problem with me smiling, we can go talk about it.
"I get paid a lot of money to play basketball. I'm doing something that teachers and doctors and police officers and fireman should be getting a lot for. But I'm getting paid for it so I'm going to have fun. I don't care who has a problem with it.
"[Horry] had his time. His time has come and gone, so don't try to tell me how to play. I think it's stupid. I never judged him on how he played. Just because I smile and have fun, that doesn't mean that I don't take this game seriously. I don't want anybody to ever get that twisted. I came here to win championships and I came here to dominate, but I'm going to do it with a smile on my face."
As for the James hardship quote, Howard couldn't help but detail his own struggles amid the expectations of a championship that ballooned when the Lakers' training camp began in October. Just making the playoffs is their goal right now.
"Laker fans expect me to do a lot night in and night out and you just have to deal with it," Howard said. "At times it can get tough and can get to a point to where you're like, 'I'm sick of it.' But I'm a strong person and I will overcome the situation that's been put in front of me. And I also understand that I've got to be patient with my body. Nobody else is going to be patient but me. It's going to continue to get better."
Howard has been on a two-game rampage since returning from a shoulder injury, averaging 26.5 points and 15 rebounds, though it came against Cleveland and Milwaukee.
Miami will be a different story. Of greater importance. With all the subplots already locked into place.
Earl Clark missed Wednesday's practice because of intestinal flu symptoms. His availability for Thursday's game was unclear. ... Jordan Hill will get a second opinion from a doctor in Nashville but was still widely expected to undergo season-ending surgery on his hip.