The Lakers lose again, and now the real fun begins

Jaime Valdez-US PRESSWIRE

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers lost for the second time in two nights on Wednesday, and with Steve Nash injured and the offense going nowhere, the Lakers just got a lot more fun.

"Why even play the regular season?" said the world when Dwight Howard went to L.A.

Glad you asked!

Sure, it's totally possible the Los Angeles Lakers come out and destroy someone Friday night, leaving the whole world to gawk at them like the Dream Team and go back to waiting for June and the inevitable showdown with the Miami Heat. But two games in, doesn't the last sentence look ridiculous?

Anyway, we are now entering into the "EVERYBODY PANIC" stage of the Lakers season. Nobody should actually panic, but that doesn't mean they won't! This is part of what makes superteams so much fun, only instead of imagining Pat Riley torturing Erik Spoelstra over a top secret fire pit in his office, now we imagine Phil Jackson walking in to Lakers facility one day as Mitch Kupchak quietly picks up the phone to have security escort Mike Brown to edge of the property.

Coming into this season, the biggest question mark with the Lakers was their bench. They have one of the most outrageous starting fives in history, but four of the five are old and on the downside of their prime, and they'll all need rest. Who steps up then?

Which ... OK! The bench is definitely still an issue, but worrying about the bench would be a luxury at this point. The bench is like a tire that's low on air pressure and you're not sure if it'll hold up. Right now the Lakers starters are the engine that's smoking 20 minutes into the drive.

Wednesday against the Blazers, (1) the one player L.A. can't afford to lose (Steve Nash) hobbled off the court with some sort of leg injury just before halftime, (2) they couldn't guard anyone in either half and (3) the offense completely broke down in the second half without Nash, and the Lakers got blown out by a Portland team that's not even supposed to make the playoffs.

You could blame all this on the "bench", but only if you wanted to totally ignore how out of sync the starters have looked so far. If you're expecting them to just flip a switch and dominate, you may be waiting a while.

There were four major problems Wednesday that won't necessarily go away:

  • DEFENSE: After getting nibbled to death by the balanced Mavs attack Tuesday, the defense gave up 92 points through THREE quarters in Portland on Wednesday. LaMarcus Aldridge drew Pau Gasol away from the rim and with court wide open, the entire world found out about Damian Lillard. All thanks to the Lakers!
  • OFFENSE: Every Lakers offensive possession is a chore. The spacing is a generally a mess, their best players haven't really played off each other yet, and their best play Wednesday was basically throwing it to Dwight Howard and waiting for him to get fouled. "The Princeton Offense takes time," says anyone who's ever fetishized the Princeton offense. But maybe this is all just a waste of time?
  • COACHING: As far as fixing the above problems, Mike Brown does not inspire a whole lot of confidence. Is this slightly unfair? Definitely. And yet ...
  • BENCH: Their sixth man, Antawn Jamison, makes the bad defense even worse, Devin Ebanks and Jordan Hill are complete wild cards and the Blazers game was a harrowing preview of what life can/will look like if Nash ever misses extended time (anytime Chris Duhon is on the court, everyone loses. Except the other team).
  • HEALTH: For a team without much depth, it's not a good omen when the 38 year-old point guard is already hurt after two games and the 34 year-old franchise player just played the first two games of the season on a sore foot (and they lost anyway).

Uh ... Can teams have bigger problems than coaching, bench, health, offense, and defense?

What makes this fun is that this Lakers team will be on TV all year, evolving in real time, with an avalanche of skepticism every time things go wrong. Now, we're more or less guaranteed to get "Mike Brown fired" rumors before Thanksgiving (!), Kobe at his caustic best as everyone questions the future, Dwight Howard saying something insufferable, and ... WHO KNOWS?

All we know is they were awful Wednesday, and the lineup that was supposed to wow everyone is officially prompting double-takes for all the wrong reasons.

"They're losing by how much?"

"To who?"

It seems like everyone thought LA's starting five would be so good that teams would adjust to them. They'd set the tempo, build up leads and leave the rest of the NBA gasping for air. The first two games have basically been the exact opposite. They don't have the speed to keep up with teams that can spread the floor with shooting forwards and slashing guards -- which in today's NBA is half the teams in the league -- and they don't have the offense to get out to all the big leads that were supposed to help ease the pressure on the bench. Also, they still look like a team playing preseason games.

Bigger picture? The Lakers aren't fatally flawed. Just ... the immediate future's more complicated than flipping a switch. There will be growing pains and lots of nights when everyone looks at a Lakers score and laughs at all the preseason hype. Which brings us to the earlier question: Can teams have bigger problems than coaching, bench, health, offense, and defense? Of course. TALENT. The Lakers do not have that problem.

Talent is what you can't fix as the season unfolds, and talent is the one thing that can kinda sorta fix everything else. That's why it's stupid to project any of the Lakers issues further than November. The Heat started 9-8 in 2010, didn't totally click for extended stretches at the beginning and end of that season, and then blew everyone off the court in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

It may take most of the regular season, it may mean abandoning the Princeton Offense or even abandoning Mike Brown, but remember the Heat as everyone freaks out this week, and remember that the Lakers are way too talented to wander around in overhyped no-man's land like the Knicks.

The growing pains will be hilarious to watch for all the chaos, but it's only a matter of time before (1) the offense finds a rhythm, (2) they patch up the defense and (3) it all makes that Portland game look adorable in hindsight. Then we can go back to worrying about the bench, Dwight's free-throw shooting and how they match up with Miami.

For now, to understand what's wrong with the Lakers, all you had to do was switch over to the Clippers game. Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe flew up the court, they hit on all cylinders the entire game and withstood every single run from the Grizzlies with another explosion of their own. From Paul to Blake Griffin to Jamal Crawford to ex-Laker Lamar Odom, the Clippers squeezed every ounce out of everyone Wednesday and made it look every bit as explosive and addictive as the best basketball always looks.

The Lakers are the opposite, but that's kinda great in its own way. All it means is the next few weeks of Lakers games will have more drama than we ever expected. Did we mention they play the Clippers on Friday?

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