Loaded questions regarding the Lakers’ problems

Dwight Howard, left, has cost the Lakers games with his poor free-throw shooting; Pau Gasol has hurt knees and hurt feelings; Kobe Bryant has become the team's unofficial point guard in the absence of the injured Steve Nash.
(Robert Gauthier, Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers are 9-11 and seven games behind Oklahoma City in the standings.

Who else predicted this? OK, me neither.

Nobody could have guessed Steve Nash would miss 18 games, his backup would miss 13, Mike Brown would be done after five games and the Lakers would mishandle the ball so often (league-leading 16.45 turnovers a game).

Not to mention the lazy defense, the undeveloped relationship between Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol’s knees and, yes, the missed free throws. ¿Â¿

The Lakers are a mess, and the following eight questions are a look at what will, won’t or might happen in the near future.

Given how many good teams there are in the Western Conference, what’s a realistic playoff seeding for the Lakers?

The best they’ll finish is fourth in the West, which means home-court advantage only in the first round. Congrats on that.

The team that was supposed to breeze to the NBA Finals will finish below Oklahoma City, Memphis, San Antonio, and maybe (dramatic pause) the Clippers.

Imagine a Lakers-Clippers first-round series, with the Clippers as the home team. Surreal.

I’ll perish the thought because it won’t help my frequent-flier account.

Then again, it sure beats spending time in Memphis or Oklahoma City. Go Clippers!

Can Steve Nash fix most of their problems when he returns?

Some but not all.

You know he’s watching the less-than-incredible involvement Pau Gasol is having in this offense, not to mention Howard too sometimes (four shots against Sacramento, seven against Memphis, nine against Houston).

Think Nash can fix it? Yeah. But he needs to fix himself first. Even if he comes back within a week, it will take plenty of time to get into shape.

He can’t run right now. His workouts are occasional 15-minute bursts on an elliptical machine. Guarding Russell Westbrook is more like 1,000 minutes on an elliptical.

So the Lakers will get better on offense (presumably) and worse on defense (definitely) when Nash returns.

Is Gasol resting because his knees hurt? Or because his feelings are hurt?

His feelings are no doubt hurt. This just isn’t his type of offense. Putting it bluntly, he was the biggest loser when the Lakers opted for Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson.

Jackson would have clawed, kicked and punched whomever necessary (a funny image) to make sure the Lakers did not trade Gasol and his weighty contract — $19 million this season, $19.3 million next season.

But Gasol isn’t faking his injury. He started dropping hints about it a few weeks before telling the Lakers he wanted to sit out some games.

Maybe he’ll come back stronger after the rest, but this still isn’t his type of offense.

How would you grade Howard’s season so far?

He recently gave his overall experience with the Lakers a 12 on a scale of one to 10.

I’d give him an 8.5 for his play.

It can’t be any higher because of his free-throw shooting. It has cost the Lakers games. It happens almost every time the score is close in the fourth quarter -- which is all the time because the Lakers can’t get separation from anybody.

He can’t be any lower than 8.5 because some things aren’t his fault. The last few weeks, he has been a distant second to Bryant in the Lakers’ scheme. He’s simply not getting the ball enough. (Note to Bryant — reread the last two sentences.)

Howard is at only 85%-90% strength/health since undergoing back surgery but until he makes his free throws, he’s just not a perfect 10.

Bryant is playing huge minutes, again. Will this catch up with him in the playoffs?

Almost surely. The Lakers’ unofficial point guard recently said he’d never worked this much in his career (see: big-boy pants, Gasol, stop whining).

He’s up to 37.1 minutes a game, which isn’t as bad as last season’s 38.5 but not as smooth as the 33.9 he had the previous year. Aren’t players supposed to play fewer minutes as they grow older?

Bryant has the ball 99.3339% (unofficially) of the time for the Lakers. The extra effort is hurting him defensively and his shooting percentage has dropped after a hot start.

Seemingly everyone else around him has been injured. The less he’s on the court, the less chance he’ll join that group.

How long until we see the best this team can offer? Late January? April?

I’d like to revise something.

When the Lakers signed Howard, I said they’d win at least 60 games. Oops. After watching them go 0-8 in exhibition play, I revised it to 57 or 58 games. Double oops.

Can I take it all back? Please? Make it 47 victories. And that’s counting on a healthy Nash. Throw in Gasol’s sore knees, Steve Blake’s recent abdominal surgery and you have an injury trifecta.

Check back on these guys in February. Late. Not early.

Is the Lakers’ bench better than a year ago?

What’s the smallest unit of measure on Earth? A micrometer? Nanometer? An Angstrom?

That’s how much better their bench is this season. It’s easy to like what Antawn Jamison is doing lately, but can he keep it up at age 36? Jodie Meeks had his most aggressive game Friday against Oklahoma City. He needs that every night.

Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks have been non-entities since Mike D’Antoni took over, and the fun-loving Robert Sacre has disappeared since exhibition season.

You’d think anything would be an upgrade over a bench featuring Matt Barnes, last season’s top Lakers reserve (7.8 points a game).

Barely true, apparently.

What has to go right for the Lakers to win the championship in June?

Let’s see: Nash has to come back quickly and stay healthy healthily the rest of the season, Howard has to make free throws, Gasol has to figure out his place in the offense, Bryant has to play better defense and pass the ball more often, and the bench needs to be more consistent.

Other than that, they’re a lock to win it all!