OKLAHOMA CITY — Did Dwight Howard rush back into the Lakers' lineup?
He had back surgery last April, was traded to the Lakers in August and started his comeback by playing two exhibitions in October. He tried not to second-guess it Tuesday a few hours before his 55th regular-season game.
"Looking back on it, I could have sat out the whole season until now and starting playing now, but I just felt like we had such a great opportunity," he said. "Some of these guys, their windows for winning are very small, and I just wanted to get back and try to do whatever I can to help this team, knowing that I wasn't in great shape. My body wasn't all the way there yet."
Howard has looked a step slow on offense and defense, opening the door for critics of his game. He has incrementally improved but hasn't been the force envisioned when he was acquired.
"Sometimes I have gotten beat up for it, but that's fine. I'll take all those hits and I'll keep moving," Howard said. "People watch games and they see me playing so they think it's all good. It's just a time thing. I've just got to keep going, keep pushing myself and it'll get better."
He had only six points on one-for-seven shooting and took 16 rebounds in the Lakers' 122-105 loss Tuesday to Oklahoma City.
Should he have taken off more time after getting that herniated disk repaired last spring?
"I don't want that in my head. I don't want myself to be thinking so much about what I should have done, what if I would have waited until this time or that time," he said. "I just know that the harder I push myself, every day it's getting better."
Fine with Metta
Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka was fined $25,000 but not suspended for Tuesday's game after striking Clippers forward Blake Griffin in the groin Sunday.
It seemed like a light penalty.
Or as Clippers forward Matt Barnes tweeted, "Let me or @mettaworldpeace do that & I guarantee its a 5game suspension. I luv *how* there are different rules, for different people!"
Metta World Peace, however, said he "can't judge" the ruling.
"How long has Ibaka been in the NBA? A couple of years?" World Peace said. "He hasn't had any problems. He deserves a pass."
Kobe Bryant said he "probably would have smacked [Ibaka] in the mouth" but World Peace wasn't thinking that way.
"I don't expect nobody to hit me," he said. "I probably wouldn't have no reaction."
There's no way to predict what the Lakers will look like next season, but they'll play two exhibitions in China against Golden State.
The teams will meet Oct. 15 in Beijing and Oct. 18 in Shanghai.
"Over the last two decades, the Lakers brand has grown tremendously in the international market, especially in China," said Tim Harris, Lakers senior vice president of business operations.
"The support we receive from the fans in China has been essential to that growth and we look forward to the opportunity to play in front of our Chinese fans."
The Lakers also left the country for two exhibition games in 2010, playing in London and Barcelona.