After bearing smiles almost all season, Dwight Howard mostly maintains a stoic persona.

So what's bothering Howard?


He feels hurt because of an aggravated labrum in his right shoulder has left him vulnerable to opponents anytime he touches the ball. He feels hurt because a 10-month-old surgically repaired back still limits his timing and explosiveness. He feels hurt because principles - ranging from coach Mike D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant to Steve Nash - have implied he should bear at least some of the pain.

Howard, once considered the Lakers' key offseason acquisition from the Orlando Magic that would restore them to championship glory, suddenly has become the lightning rod for everything that ails the Lakers.

"There's a lot of stuff going on around me that I can't control," Howard said. "But my biggest thing is keeping my faith up, not losing faith in our team and staying focused. It's tough to deal with, but I'm going to overcome it."

The Lakers (24-28) still are waiting for that to happen.

Howard enters the Lakers' game tonight against the Phoenix Suns (17-35) at Staples Center averaging 16.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, his lowest marks since the 2005-06 season. He's scored in single figures in six of his previous nine games.

The general public gushed over the pairing of Nash and Howard because they're considered the league's top pick-and-roll players. But D'Antoni has said "the relationship and timing is not there."