Updated: December 10, 2012, 12:06 PM ET

1. Solutions For Lakers' Woes Still Unclear

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers have gone from the most loaded team to the most perplexing. I spent a long Sunday at Staples Center trying to figure out what the Lakers can do to make this season work, and emerged further from the answer than ever. Mike D'Antoni seemed just as mystified, and he's the guy the Laker honchos said was the solution.

"Ummmmm … we're not very good right now," D'Antoni said, drawing the only definitive conclusion that can be made about this team after a 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz.

The solution isn't to rev up the tempo, because they're not fast enough to get back on defense. They don't want to grind the game into a possession-by-possession battle, because they have neither the comfort on offense nor the trust on defense to win that way.

They spent more time talking about energy than a conference of nuclear physicists, but on this veteran-laden team who's supposed to provide it? The Lakers were virtually even with the Jazz in "hustle stats," such as rebounds and blocked shots, but the Jazz were able to sprint away to a 19-4 advantage in fast-break points. Their "go" is gone.

Nash/Gasol
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty ImagesSteve Nash and Pau Gasol, still sidelined.

It's not simply about effort, it's about having a sound defensive scheme and a willingness to commit to it. As John Hollinger pointed out, their defense is ranked 25th in the last five minutes of close games, which usually isn't fast-break city. Their rotations are bad, they don't close out on shooters, they leave the weak side unprotected. Whenever Dwight Howard leaves his man to block a shot there's no one coming over to guard the suddenly open player, or to keep him off the boards.

"When I step up, or the next man steps up, the next man has to come over," Howard said. "We've got to help each other. We'll learn how to do it. We're too good of a team to let everything slip away."

Are they that good of a team? Good teams handle business at home, then win about half of their road games. The Lakers are barely above .500 at home, at 7-6. They're 2-6 on the road.

You can say they've let the easy part of the schedule slip away with nothing to show for it. They're a quarter of their way through the season, with the hard part of the voyage still to come. They still have 17 games remaining against the Eastern Conference teams with winning records, as well as multiple games against each of the top four teams in the West.

The Lakers don't seem to want to engage in lengthy discussions about their issues. Perhaps because they know the solution isn't as easy as a solving a simple math problem. Kobe Bryant, who has been extremely quotable on all matters this season, kept his answers to a couple of sentences. Howard, who normally waits until he is completely dressed, lotion applied, accessories in place before he talks to the media, answered questions in his undershirt.

The most significant words came from D'Antoni, who no longer is offering the return of Steve Nash as a remedy, or preaching patience.

"It's not the offense," he said.

It's worth noting that the Lakers have averaged 106.5 points in their past four losses. Also, Bryant remains the top scorer in the league -- although the Lakers are now 1-9 when he scores 30 points or more.

As for the timetable for getting this fixed, apparently look no further than their upcoming four-game trip to Cleveland, New York, Washington and Philadelphia.

"This will be the time … if we're going to do it," D'Antoni said.

They can't keep saying to wait on Nash because by the time he gets here they might have only two-thirds of the season left. He still isn't practicing. There's still no estimated date for his return. They have three off days before their Dec. 22 game at Golden State, followed by a pair of off days before they face the Knicks on Christmas, so sometime in there would be ideal if he can even practice by then. If.

And I'll say it again: Nash's return won't solve the defensive issues that everyone in the locker keeps saying are at the heart of the problem.

But maybe a more comfortable offensive flow would ease their mental burden and help the defense that way. Everyone said their struggles with the Princeton offense were a detriment at the other end of the court. It could still apply as they try to balance D'Antoni's system with a top post-up option in Howard. The offense had a more traditional look to it Sunday, as they dumped it in to Howard and watched the Jazz defense collapse on him. Howard had only 11 points on 10 field goal attempts. At least the Jazz sent him to the line only once, for a pair of free throws.

For curiosity's sake, I watched the Toronto Raptors play the Los Angeles Clippers earlier Sunday to see if Andrea Bargnani coming to Los Angeles in exchange for Pau Gasol would work. First you'd have to get past the notion that if you were choosing sides in a pickup game you'd rather have Gasol. It's not even a salary dump. It's about trying to match a roster to a system. Which makes you wonder about a system that values Bargnani over Gasol.

Bargnani does have a deeper shooting range than Gasol. He just hasn't put it to good use of late. A career 36 percent 3-point shooter, he's at 32 percent this season. He shot 5-for-15 Sunday afternoon in the Raptors' loss to the Clippers.

He also seems more comfortable shooting off the dribble than being a catch-and-shoot guy, which would presumably be his role with Nash kicking out passes to him in L.A. But he'd probably be a better fit as a fourth guy on the ladder, rather than at the top.

It's hard to imagine the answers to the Lakers' problems can be found on a 4-17 team. And it's even harder to believe that record is only five games worse than the Lakers'.


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