EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Will the gray skies hovering over the Los Angeles Lakers' 17-25 season clear up? Dwight Howard still thinks so.
"Negativity just got to stop," Howard said after the team's shootaround Friday. "I'm sick of hearing about it. I'm sick of hearing about all the negative stuff. It's a big problem. Negativity is just not good. We got to bring some positivity to this situation, to everybody."
The Lakers got a bit of good news Thursday when Howard was cleared to play against the Utah Jazz on Friday despite reaggravating the partially torn labrum in his right shoulder during Wednesday's 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
While having Howard in the lineup should help the team's chances, the fact remains the Lakers are closer to last place in the Western Conference (three games ahead of No. 15 New Orleans) than they are to qualifying for the playoffs (four games behind No. 8 Portland) with more than half the season in the books.
However, Howard said the attitude surrounding the team can do a lot to change those circumstances.
"I'm just talking about negativity in general," Howard said. "That's like a dark cloud, and the more you feed into the negativity, the bigger it gets. So, we have to change that and we have to believe. For all the fans and everybody who support the Lakers, believe. Yes, we're struggling. Yes, it's not the best time to be a Laker fan or a Laker player, but we will get out of it. There's a rainbow on the other end. We just got to make sure we get to it. I don't know if we got to eat some more Skittles or whatever it may be, but we got to find a way."
Yet even Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni, who has a reputation for being as optimistic as they come, acknowledged the problems the Lakers face.
"It's a challenge, there's no doubt about it, trying to get everybody on the same page," D'Antoni said. "Nothing works unless all five, 10 (players) buy in. Just getting everybody comfortable and buying in and having hard times hit you and you still plow ahead, that's been the hardest thing.
"We're not where we need to be. I am the coach, so I'm not doing what I need to do. But it's not been from a lack of effort from anybody. We're trying and we will continue to try and try to solve it."
Howard said he is continuing to solve the personal challenge of playing through a surgically repaired back that still isn't fully healed as well as dealing with his shoulder injury.
"I just got to play," Howard said. "It's the same thing with my back. My back, I'm not 100 percent with my back. My body is not 100 percent, but I just got to go out there and leave it all on the floor no matter what the situation is and just play through it.
"There are a lot of things that I have to learn myself. I'm not saying I'm all-knowing and I'm perfect. I understand there are still things to my game, myself that I have to learn, and this has been a great time to learn it. Throughout all the things that have been going wrong, everything that didn't matter when we were winning in the past, it didn't matter. It was kind of swept under the rug. Now when we lose, everything is magnified so you get a chance to really look at it and figure out what you need to do. So, this is a great time to do it."
Another issue that will only get magnified more and more as the Feb. 21 trade deadline approaches is the fact that Howard will become a free agent after this season and that the Lakers could consider dealing him rather than have the big man walk this summer without getting anything in return.
"We're not talking about it," Howard said, when asked about his future plans for Los Angeles. "That's the noise from everybody else. Our job is to win. Our focus is winning a championship and getting into the playoffs. If we get into the playoffs it's a new ballgame. Zero-0, records don't count. The regular season doesn't count. It starts all the way over, and that's what we're looking at.
"I want to keep my mind clear of all the offseason free-agent stuff. I haven't even thought about it. I know what's being said, but right now we're four games out (of a playoff spot) and we have an opportunity to turn this around. We got to think positive."