MINNEAPOLIS — The Lakers have one of the NBA's most efficient shooters, but they don't use him often down the stretch.
In fact, Dwight Howard has been ignored in the fourth quarter of their five losses this month. He's had three shots. Yes, three . . . total.
He isn't invisible in a play-by-play analysis of those losses, with his name appearing next to the same stat almost every time in the fourth quarter: "Howard rebound."
He has seen enough of the shot imbalance, though. Or maybe he'd heard enough from a reporter who reminded him of it after the Lakers' latest loss, 109-103 Monday at Golden State.
"I don't really want to even talk about it," Howard said, adding that he would "let these guys figure out what we need to do to play."
He concluded with, "If you want to win games, you've got to play the right way."
For those unfamiliar with NBA postgame lingo, that means there's not enough passing to satisfy everybody — especially Howard.
Kobe Bryant is the obvious person to change that. He shelved his facilitator mode Monday, taking 10 shots in the first quarter and then nine in the fourth as the Lakers tried to come back from a 22-point deficit.
Strangely, though, Bryant lobbied for more shots for Howard after the loss.
"I think he's playing phenomenal. We've got to figure out a way to get him some more looks down low," Bryant said. "I tried to step back as much as I could [Monday] and let that develop. But then [Howard hit] foul trouble and all of a sudden, it's a 19-point game, can't sit around much longer. We've got to figure that balance out."
Howard, by the way, is sixth in the NBA this season in field-goal percentage (56.7%). Perhaps that's why, since the All-Star break, the Lakers are 8-1 when Howard gets at least 10 shots in a game, and only 3-5 when he launches fewer than 10.
But his absence from the offense is particularly noticeable in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers tried to get back into Monday's game by launching three-point shots, but earlier this month they trailed Phoenix by only five going into the fourth and Oklahoma City by eight at the same point before losing badly. They were neck and neck with Atlanta and Washington through three quarters in those losses. Again, Howard had three shots combined from the field in the final quarter of these five games.
Howard's fourth-quarter attempts are not being erased because he is fouled and sent to the free-throw line. In those five losses, he had six free-throw attempts in the fourth. He made four.
He does need to be involved in more pick-and-roll sets, but it's not as simple as just feeding him more often in the post.
"You put him in a tough position because you just dump the ball off to him and now you've got five guys, four guys, breathing down his neck," Bryant said. "We've got to run some things and get him on the move a little bit, make his life a little easier."
Howard has been working on his outside shot, trying to prove to teammates he can score from beyond six feet.
It didn't work against Golden State. He missed badly on a 16-foot bank shot and a 15-footer in the first few minutes. End of Howard's outside shooting for the night.
If he wants advice from a gunner, here it is.
"Just shoot it," Bryant said. "He made a couple [against Washington] and then it was a tough night for him at the start of the [Golden State] game in terms of shooting that shot. But you can't get better if you don't shoot it."
Bryant said he would be a bigger voice on the court, though not an emotional one.
"I've probably got to take the lead a little bit in that department," he said. "It's not really like a rah-rah situation. When I communicate with the guys, it'll always be about what the team did to put us in positions where we had to pick our poison and give up something."
Gasol's slow start
Pau Gasol has played two games since returning from a 20-game absence because of a tear inside the bottom of his right foot. His stats, as expected, weren't great.
"He's still out there with Bambi legs a little bit, having missed so much time and [not] being able to get up and down the floor," Bryant said. "So he's just got to get his legs back."
Gasol is averaging 5.5 points and shooting 27.8% since coming back. He was averaging 13.4 points and shooting 45.3% before being injured Feb. 5.