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Smith said the real pressure may be on teammate Jameer Nelson. Howard previously noted a desire to play alongside other point guards, including Chris Paul and Deron Williams.

Nelson and Howard are friends, both entering the league in 2004.

But Nelson has struggled this season, averaging a career-low 8.3 points and shooting career-low 38 percent from the field.

“He has to play better, of course. But through all of this, he is the one taking the pounding,” Smith said. “Right now, he’s justifying the pounding because he’s not playing well. But sometimes we forget in professional sports that they’re people. Regardless of what we talk about, they’re still human beings.”

Smith said Nelson is injury-free, other than foot issues he’s dealt with for several seasons.

“So as tough as he wants to be on the outside, on the inside _ all of them _ he’s just a 30-year-old kid,” he said. “He still has to work through the mental aspect of him taking a pounding. No, the center didn’t come out and directly say it’s on Jameer, but basically he has.”

Even with needed improvements, Smith said he likes the direction so far.

“A real good team has to overcome a lot of things,” he said. “A good team has to overcome a good player not being on par, a good team has to overcome a guy getting to the foul line a bunch of times and missing a lot of foul shots.

“So I imagine if we clear up those things, we’ll be a much better basketball team.”