By Kevin Ding
MIAMI – What's wrong with you if the Greatest Teammate Ever is fed up with you?
Well, what's wrong with Dwight Howard is he still isn't trying.
And for Steve Nash – who has spent close to two decades in the NBA making anyone who tried hard next to him look better than ever and who said during his own MVP heights that if everybody worked as hard as he does, he wouldn't even be in the league – not trying is infuriating.
They were always the most curious pairing of all the complex ones on these Lakers: The ultimate underdog and the No. 1 overall everything. The one who after practice Saturday was doing extreme pushups in conjunction with sprints, the other who was sitting in a courtside seat playing with his phone.
Neither of the Lakers' celebrated acquisitions has been healthy this season, which is part of the problem. It's about the only thing Nash and Howard have had in common.
For months, Nash has been talking about the Lakers needing to have "shared experiences" to grow together. That's tough if the teammates are seeing the experiences from totally different perspectives.
That's what prompted Nash and Howard to yell at each other in the third quarter of the Lakers' loss Sunday in Miami.
Nash drove and was trapped on the baseline by two Miami defenders, Udonis Haslem about to force Nash out of bounds and Mario Chalmers also there between Nash and Howard, who stood deep in the paint. The other three Lakers had the floor spaced the way Mike D'Antoni wants, all behind the 3-point arc, so no other Heat player could get to Howard.
Howard had time to stand there, stare at Nash and the two Heat players, hold his arms up and wave them.
So Howard's eyes and arms were working. Tragically, his legs and feet were not.
Are we going to chalk this up to after effects from his April back surgery, too?
Howard just stood there instead of trying to help Nash create a passing lane – and get himself an easy dunk, as Nash gestured afterward would've happened if Howard just did something besides stand there.
In Howard's eyes, he was open, so give him the ball. That has been Howard's point of view much of the season: He simply wants the ball, wants his touches, wants his shots – and yet refuses to buy into the D'Antoni doctrine that "the ball finds energy."
If Howard really lusts for individual offense so badly, why not try harder to get the ball? Even if he can't explode like he did when he fully trusted his body, at least try to do something. Just look at how well things went even with makeshift non-Nash point guards for Jordan Hill – with a herniated disk in his back and other injuries before requiring hip surgery – when he simply rolled hard off picks.
When teams trap or zone Nash, as they usually do, and stay at home on Kobe Bryant on the backside, it's pretty obvious that Howard is the guy with no one on him for the moment after the pick.
Catch, step, step. Score.
Not always, but certainly often – if you try.
Watch footage of those old Phoenix sets and it's more like pick and run for how hard the Suns would cut. Nash's magic has always risen out of everyone moving, teammates inspired by trust in him getting them the ball right on time if they brought real energy.
When Howard did not in that moment Sunday, after so many games now feeling trapped by so many instances of Howard's immobility, Nash snapped – far more so than when the two squabbled in Denver on Dec. 26, Howard's most lifeless game of the season besides Thursday in Boston.
Why won't Howard try?
He's simply afraid to hurt himself?
He wants to save his body for free agency and beyond?
He really hates pick-and-roll offense so much now – maybe because Shaquille O'Neal is so deep in his head that he's determined to prove O'Neal's preseason statement incorrect about the only way Howard is the best center in the league? ("If you want to go to flash and dunking and the pick and roll, you gotta go with Dwight Howard.")
Does it even matter?
When you know that this whole team's fate rides on Howard's level of effort, are 39 years old and just faced your own basketball mortality with a seven-week broken leg (and yes, Nash came back and is playing through his own nerve damage in his left leg, as Howard regularly cites about his left leg), it's enough to start steaming inside.
Even if you're known as the Greatest Teammate Ever.
Nash is not convinced Howard is incapable of playing pick and roll.
"We'd like to get him in the pick and roll more," Nash said Sunday. "I think that's how he was really good in Orlando. He'd pick and he'd dive and they'd swing and put it in to him, so he could get deeper catches and the help side has a more difficult time coming to him.
"I don't know. It's been difficult really to get him into that game – running into pick and rolls, diving hard, looking for the ball. We really haven't found that rhythm from him yet."
Howard would probably say for him.
He sat down after the game Sunday to do an interview with a highly attractive female reporter from Puerto Rico wearing clingy clothes and huge heels. Her first observation/question?
I watched the game today and you don't seem to be given the ball very much ...
Indeed, despite all the Defensive Player of the Year awards, the superficial stardom that Howard craves comes only from one end of the court.
It becomes a crucial issue when the Lakers aren't convinced Howard will consistently play hard on defense unless he has a role he accepts on offense.
Nash is not blameless for the Lakers' struggles; Bryant and D'Antoni, either. Rest assured, though, that even as the Lakers' brass tries to placate Howard so he'll re-sign, those three are on the same page about what hasn't clicked on Howard's end.
They've tried to feed him in the post early in games despite the analytics showing little production, and he has been trying a little harder in recent weeks – aside from sitting out because of fears over shoulder pain.
He tried on defense in the fourth quarter in Charlotte despite not getting any shots during the Lakers' improbable, important rally. And as long as Howard tries some – and his right shoulder appears to be sound enough for that considering he was hoisting 3-pointer after 3-pointer as his final warmup before tip-off Sunday – the Lakers will keep getting better.
They actually are in position to win their next two before the All-Star break (Suns, Clippers) and then two after (Celtics, Trail Blazers), all home games, and reach .500. As long as Howard tries some, yes, the Lakers will make the playoffs – as there's plenty of time to catch mediocre Utah or inexperienced Houston. And what if he really tries hard?
Even with his quarrel with Howard on Sunday, Nash said the Lakers are "sputtering in the right direction."
He isn't fed up to the point of giving up.
"We're not in here ready to quit on each other," Nash said. "We're still going for it. But it's just been really slow going."
That's how it goes when someone in a group believes failure is being done to him instead of by him.