Lakers center Howard tells critics to relax

Dwight Howard had a message for anybody criticizing him.

NEW YORK Dwight Howard has a message for anybody criticizing him.

Settle down.

The Lakers center wanted to remind everybody he was still not 100 percent.

"I wasn't even supposed to be playing until January and I'm playing now. What do you expect?" he said after the Lakers' shoot-around Thursday afternoon. They play the New York Knicks tonight.

Howard has been criticized because of his inaccurate free-throw shooting and also for some subpar games on offense, most recently a 3-for-9 shooting effort Tuesday in the Lakers' 100-94 loss to Cleveland.

Howard reminded people who "expected me to be high-flying" that he had back surgery last April to repair a herniated disk.

"I'm not in terrific shape," he said. "I'm still working through that. I have a long way to go. Only thing I can do is continue to play as hard as I can."

Meanwhile, the Lakers will be without Pau Gasol a sixth consecutive game because of knee tendinitis. They are 1-4 without him and searching for answers.

Two Lakers greats — Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson — even had a recent phone conversation, Bryant revealed Thursday. The presumed topic: what to do with the Lakers, who are 9-13 overall, 2-7 on the road.

Johnson has been a vocal critic of Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's push-the-pace offense. Johnson also wants D'Antoni to create more activity for Gasol near the basket.

— Mike Bresnahan

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