A cold, dark reality set in Thursday in a place where the Lakers used to compete for championships.

The Lakers walked out of TD Garden with a 116-95 loss to the Boston Celtics with too many reminders that this crawl back into the playoff picture will become just as burdensome as avoiding the Northeastern snowstorm.

The Lakers (23-27) received their wish in Dwight Howard returning for the first time after missing the past three games because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder. But his nine points on eight field-goal attempts, seven rebounds and four turnovers provided little evidence he's fully healthy.

"There were a couple of times I felt it," Howard said. "I tried not to think about it. I tried to go out there as hard as I can without trying to nurse it."

Boston's repeated drives to the rim showed Howard's hardly ready enough to become the defensive anchor he promised he'd fulfill. It also didn't help that no one spaced the floor well enough to stop Boston from shooting 46 of 87 from the field.

Kobe Bryant went away from his facilitating role, posting 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and zero assists. As if he had any other choice. The Lakers shot 3 of 17 from 3-point range, led by Metta World Peace going 0 of 5 from the perimeter.

"I made the plays that were there," Bryant said. "We just didn't make shots. There's not much I can do about that."