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Lakers at a crossroads again

3/27/2013

Here we meet again, Lakers season.

At the corner of frustration and disappointment.

Monday marked the team's first three-game losing streak since late January, which led to that air-it-out meeting in Memphis.

Tuesday marked getting the last card in a poker hand nobody wants as Metta World Peace was diagnosed with a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee, making him the fifth out of L.A.'s five opening day starters to miss some time because of injury this season.

"Disappointing obviously and our backs are against the wall once again when we gave ourselves a touch of breathing room," Steve Nash said after L.A.'s 109-103 loss to the Warriors in game they trailed by 23 at halftime. "Now we really got to fight and things aren't looking good in terms of our rhythm is a little off, morale is a little down, guys are banged up and we got to really fight now."

They also have to fight against in-fighting, it would appear.

First, there's the tried and true Kobe Bryant vs. Dwight Howard score to settle.

Howard has just 17 shots total in his last two games, connecting on 12 of them (70.1 percent). Bryant has 45 attempts in those two games, making 19 (42.2 percent).

"I don't even want to talk about it," Howard said after the Warriors game. "We have to figure out what we need to do to play. If you want to win games, you have to play the right way."

Howard has just three shots total in the fourth quarters of the five losses L.A. has in the month of March.

Bryant spoke up in Golden State, saying that they need to feature Howard more.

"I think he's playing phenomenal," Bryant said. "We have to figure out a way to get him some more looks down low though. I tried to step back as much as I possibly could and allow that to develop. He was in foul trouble and all of the sudden it's a 19-point game and we can't sit around much longer. But we got to figure that balance out."

When told about Bryant's comments, Howard seemed to sniff out the hypocrisy.

"He said what happened?" Howard asked, almost incredulously, before sticking to a diplomatic response. "When we lose, everything is magnified. We just got to play the game the right way, do what we did coming out of All-Star break to get some wins and go from there."

Before L.A.'s current three-game lull, it had won 11 of 14 games since the All-Star break and 19 of 26 games since leaving Memphis after that meeting.

But it had also done much of that winning without Pau Gasol. Now there's a bit of Gasol vs. Mike D'Antoni to settle once again as well.

D'Antoni accommodated Gasol by putting him in the starting lineup each of the two games since he returned from a plantar fascia injury, but he played Gasol an average of only 21.5 minutes in the two games, and kept him on the bench down the stretch of both losses.

"I'm still not great, I still have to get my conditioning better and my rhythm better and my legs into it a little more," said Gasol, who averaged 5.5 points and 8.0 rebounds on 27.8 percent shooting in the two games.

But while Gasol admitted that there's still work to be done on his end, he would clearly prefer to get his wind back by playing more in the games.

"The more that I can be out there, the better I think for my conditioning just to fight through fatigue and increase it every game," Gasol said. "Everything is relative and debatable, but right now I'm trying to get better so hopefully that will help make it easy on [D'Antoni to decide] me being out there a little longer."

The Lakers are hoping they can hold on a little longer to their place as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They lead the Utah Jazz by one with 11 games left on their schedule. The Jazz have helped them in this category as L.A. might have gone only 7-5 in March so far, Utah has been just 4-9. Also in the picture is Dallas, now also just one game behind the Lakers for No. 8 after going 9-4 in March so far and beating the Clippers in overtime Tuesday night.

"We just got to push through it," Bryant said. "We were playing pretty well, and now obviously we're a little scared which had a lot to do with me coming out of the lineup and Pau coming back and it took us out of our rhythm a little bit, but we'll find it again.

"You just keep your poise about it. The reality of it is we're in a better situation now than we were a month ago, so you got to kind of find the silver lining."