The Lakers — who fell to 0-4 after losing Tuesday to the Denver Nuggets — are a defensive mess this season. They are scoring points, but getting stops has been problematic.
The team lacks experience, relying on young players like D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson.
"At some point, we can't just use our youth and inexperience as an excuse," said Lou Williams after Tuesday's loss at the Staples Center. "We just have to go out there and compete and try to win games."
The Lakers are trying, according to Coach Byron Scott, but the desire to compete isn't the issue. They have yielded 116.8 points a game while scoring only 106.8.
"Most of it's not effort. It really isn't. I think our guys are giving a great effort," Scott said. "Most of it is just knowing where you're supposed to be at the right time, in the right place."
Kobe Bryant gave a more detailed example, after Kenneth Faried scored 28 points on 10 of 13 shots to lead the Nuggets past the Lakers.
"It's just basic stuff. They ran a top screen and roll, for example, and we allowed the big to roll on the single side," Bryant said. "[It's lack of] experience. You can see the action, you make the big roll to the crowded side, so now Faried is rolling to a congested area.
"And those are all just little details. That's not something you recognize before; you see the action taking place, and then you make the adjustments right then and there. That's just experience."
Bryant's point is that there's only so much that can be coached. At some point, players become experienced enough to make defensive reads based on what the opposing offense is running.
"Defense and recognizing formations ... honestly this stuff just comes from experience," Bryant said. "You look at the film and see what's there. The answers are right there. Just look at the film and learn the same way I learned, just by watching the film, game by game, piece by piece."
Russell, the team's 19-year-old rookie guard, was fickle with his answer as to why the Lakers are struggling defensively, first placing the blame on a lack of desire.
"Once we value how important it is getting a stop, then we'll be all right," he said.
But when told Bryant's opinion, that the players may not be experienced enough to make the necessary reads on the fly, Russell changed his mind. "Sure, that sounds right," he said.
Scott is trying to keep a few veterans on the floor to help the younger players along, but he also talks about players being on a string, and if even one is out of position, the defense can fail. He's been hesitant to add more youth to the mix with rookies Larry Nance and Anthony Brown.
Combinations with players like Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Lou Williams, Nick Young and Bryant aren't making up for the lapses from some of the younger players — but then the veterans aren't blameless. Bryant is nowhere near the defender he was in his youth. Williams and Young are scorers, first and foremost. Bass is undersized at power forward, let alone at center, where he's been primarily positioned.
"Roy is great," said Bryant of the team's defensive anchor. "He's intense all the time. I think he's been phenomenal for the team."
On Tuesday, Scott finally turned to the athletic Tarik Black against the Nuggets, but the second-year center also is undersized and relatively inexperienced. The Lakers coach had hoped to stick with his rotation with Ryan Kelly and Bass, but the team had foundered badly enough that a change was necessary.
"We're going to keep pushing at it, and they're going to get it," Scott said. "It's going to take us some time, but we're going to get it."
Bryant said there's a certain amount of natural frustration in losing, but he added that there's no reason to dwell on what's missing, other than to focus on solving the problems at hand.
"Frustrated is not going to do anything. You've got to fix things and communicate and teach," he said. "You can be as mad as you want, but if you're not executing tactics, the basics of it? A boxer can go into a ring as mad as he wants, but if he's technically not sound, he's going to get knocked out."
The Lakers embark on a five-game road trip starting in Brooklyn on Friday. The Nets also are 0-4 on the season.
"We'll probably play better on the road, actually," Bryant said. "Getting in an environment where it's just us against the world, we may actually play better."
It's not like the Lakers can do any worse than their play over the past four games, at least defensively.
Bryant, at least, was calm after the team's loss against the Nuggets.
But should the fans take the same approach — because the early response has been to freak out?
"Freak out. It's good," Bryant said. "It's good for the soul."