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Welcoming Lakers and Dwight Howard to eighth place, with open arms

The Lakers and fun-loving center Dwight Howard have climbed into the West's last playoff spot. That means hugs all around, even for Page 2.

March 10, 2013|T.J. Simers
  • Lakers center Dwight Howard throws down a dunk against the Bulls in the fourth quarter at Staples Center on Sunday afternoon, when he finished with 16 points and 21 rebounds.
Lakers center Dwight Howard throws down a dunk against the Bulls in the fourth… (Christina House / For The…)

Dwight Howard is hugging me in the Lakers' locker room before Sunday's game.

I know I've become close with the team, but what does it say when a Laker wants to hug me more than the wife does?

Now I could understand the hug maybe a month or so ago with no one seemingly liking the guy and Howard left alone with only his smile and Page 2 as a supporter.

But three hours after a ho-hum win over Chicago, my guy Howard wants yet another hug.

He starts chasing me around the locker room, and I would have made a considerable donation to the Lakers' charity of choice had they made Kobe available to witness the whole thing.

But what can I say? Athletes just seem to gravitate toward me; maybe Howard is hearing the joy in my heart.

The Lakers are the No. 8 seed!

The Lakers are the No. 8 seed!

The Lakers are the No. 8 seed!

Glory be, keep the bums coming on the schedule and the Lakers might end up ruling the NBA world, especially with the way my boyfriend is playing.

He's just killing it. Twenty-one rebounds against the Bulls and now 62 career games with 20 or more. Another 600 or 700 more games like this one and he'll catch Wilt.

Throw in 16 points, ask the questions, and yes, his legs still aren't right, his shoulder is still torn, and he will have more to offer when really healthy.

And yet he's now dominating games.

Hard for the critics to make the case that Howard doesn't belong in a Lakers uniform. But then what were they thinking in the first place, the Lakers possessing the best center in the game and they were supposed to just get rid of him?

I suspect some of the hard cases will never get past the fact he's not Kobe. But a funny, funny scene before Sunday's game.

As Kobe came onto the court all serious for pregame introductions, Howard approached him wearing the Kobe face that everyone saw in the closing seconds Friday night against Toronto.

It was as good a sign as any that Howard is feeling more comfortable here, and too bad for the Bulls.

But what about those who wanted Howard traded? How many gave up on Howard, or thought he had given up on the Lakers?

How many tried to pound him into submission, dwelling on his smile as if it keeps him from getting rebounds?

"I can't help who I am," Howard says, but he shut down earlier this season when the criticism became too much.

"I did," Howard admits. "It was stupid of me to do that. I should never let anyone affect who I am as a person."

He just might be the most people-pleasing athlete I have ever known, if you don't mention Lamar Odom.

"All I have to do is go out there with a smile on my face, have fun and play basketball," he says, as if still trying to convince himself.

"All the other stuff has just molded me into a better person. I look at it now as a blessing instead of everyone picking on me, while using it as fuel to push myself to help this team win."

Nice speech, but he really is the holly-jolly Dwight Howard once again. So is life in L.A. good now?

"Things are getting better," he says. "People are happier. But I would see [the criticism] and hear it. I understand all that stuff, but our goal is to win a championship."

As close as we are, I tried to let him down easy.

"You have no shot of winning a championship."

"We don't?" Howard asks, and bless his heart for acting surprised.

I believe Howard makes a huge difference, but not that much.

Kobe is playing super these days and the Lakers barely slipped past doormats like New Orleans and Toronto.

They have climbed into a playoff spot by going 9-0 against teams with losing records since Feb. 1. They are 4-5 against teams with winning records over the same stretch and will probably open the playoffs on the road against Oklahoma City or San Antonio.

And Mike D'Antoni is still the team's coach.

"I think we have a great shot of winning the championship," Howard says, and I'm happy for my guy, because everybody loves a dreamer.

But now he's asking for another hug, and I know what you're thinking, how do I pick and choose which athletes I hug?

"I'll hug you," I tell him. "I'll even come to Dallas or Brooklyn or wherever you're playing next year."

And I get the cold shoulder.

But for the record, it was the one that just had the ice bag on it.

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