Dwight Howard returned from back surgery to play in his first season with the Lakers in 2012-13. Howard suffered a herniated disk which led to back surgery. It was quite clear that his back issue impacted many aspects of his game, especially in the first half of the season.
Lakers reporter Mike Trudell discussed just how Howard’s injury affected his season with the Lakers with head athletic trainer, Gary Vitti.
Vitti said, “I think Dwight received a bad rap for how he returned from back surgery. Before the surgery, Dwight was losing innervation to his foot from pressure on the nerve root, and he had surgery to remove that pressure.
Dr. Watkins did a great surgery and luckily the foot issue resolved quickly. Dwight did everything he was asked to do – he was compliant, diligent and worked very hard on his rehabilitation.”
Some fans blame Howard for using his back injury as an excuse for not playing hard. Vitti, on the other hand, fully supports the notion that Dwight did everything he was physically able to do. Howard might not have been in tip-top NBA game playing shape, but he felt he could go out there and contribute to help his team.
“When he plateaued, the last piece of the puzzle was to actually play basketball at the highest level, and this can’t be done in practice … the game is so much quicker and more powerful than anything you can create scrimmaging. So there came a point where we had to throw Dwight to the wolves, so to speak, and he went out there like a warrior and played himself into NBA shape.”
Not only was Howard trying to rehab his back, but he also needed to reduce his sugar intake and start a healthy diet. Dwight has been known for his sweet tooth, which has caused him to get out of shape and limit his physical ability on the court.
“That, along with the reduction of sugar intake – which reduced his insulin spikes and resultant energy crashes allowed him to play at a higher level – (helped considerably). But once again, that does not happen overnight.
Once it did you saw a stronger, more energetic Dwight Howard who was able to grab the ball high and keep it high. He stopped bringing the ball down to get enough energy to jump, which had allowed defenses to try and strip him and as a result load his shoulder labrum.”
Once Howard was able to lessen his sugar intake and strengthen his back and core, he was able to be more effective. The whole season Dwight saw gradual progress game-by-game as time went on.
“So the better shape he got in and a better diet allowed him to perform at a higher level and keep himself out of positions that would potentially hurt his shoulder.”
“Not having the understanding of this sequence of rehab created doubt amongst his critics and he took undeserved criticism.”
Dwight may have received unfair criticism for not being fully recovered, but that is what comes with the territory of playing under pressure for such a storied franchise like the Los Angeles Lakers.
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