Dwight Howard Injury: Lakers' Playoff Hopes Go Down the Drain with Big Man Hurt

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers returns to the court after a timeout during a 104-88 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center on January 15, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

As Dwight Howard went down during the Los Angeles Lakers' game with the Phoenix Suns Wednesday night, so too did the Lakers' chances of making the playoffs.

Howard tweaked his right shoulder, which is where he, of course, suffered a torn labrum earlier in the month. As a result, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Twitter that Howard will miss Friday's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com reported Howard will be receiving platelet-rich plasma therapy in order to fix the ailing shoulder.

As if the Lakers weren't already looking at enough obstacles for a playoff push, this injury may very well be the final straw.

Their season has been filled with so many up and downs on the court, trade rumors and head coaching issues, fans have probably lost count. Now they might have to deal with yet another injury to Howard.

Despite his drop from last year in terms of scoring and rebounding, Howard has been one of the most important players on this team.

The shoulder issue couldn't come at a more critical juncture in the season. Los Angeles, with its 20-26 record, sits 10th in the Western Conference, four games behind the Houston Rockets.

After winning three games in a row, the Lakers' loss to the Suns was the first game of a seven-game road swing. They face key games against the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and Boston Celtics.

If the Lakers fail to take at least four of the seven road games, they could be facing an insurmountable deficit for simply the eighth spot in the West.

Now you have to wonder how long Los Angeles will have to go on its road trip without one of its best players.

Then you have to figure if Howard will ever truly be healthy this season.

In an ideal world, Los Angeles would be able to keep him off the court until he's fully ready to make a return. Unfortunately, that's the kind of patience the team can't show if it wants to hold on to any postseason hopes.

The Lakers can't afford to not have Howard in the lineup at such a vital point in the year.

By rushing him back, though, the Lakers are risking Howard to continue to re-aggravate the injury. Should that happen, he could pick up a much longer term shoulder problem.

If Howard misses a couple weeks to a month, Los Angeles is dead in the water. Earl Clark has been a pleasant surprise and Pau Gasol is still on the team. Those two, however, don't equal Howard's lost production.

Basketball fans in Los Angeles will still be able to enjoy the playoffs. They'll just have to watch Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to do so.