For Lakers, it’s not about who’s missing, it’s about what’s missing


If you believe the return of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol is going to make everything all right for the Lakers, here’s some bad news:

It won’t.

There’s too much wrong for even Nash, as gifted as he is, to fix what ails the Lakers. And there’s certainly too much out of kilter for them to rest their hopes on the return of Gasol, who has been memorable so far this season only for his struggles at both ends of the floor while battling tendinitis in his knees.

Even Coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged the Lakers can’t count on Nash and Gasol to save them —and that was before the team’s too-often-passive 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz on Sunday in a home game jammed between a 1-2 trip and four more games back East.


“Oh, no, it won’t cure everything. But it will help,” D’Antoni said of Nash’s return, which might occur sometime during the trip to Cleveland, New York, Washington and Philadelphia.

“But at that point, if that doesn’t cure some stuff, then we need to have some heart-to-hearts and we need to understand what’s going on because if he can’t run it, then we’ve got some problems.”

But Nash surely won’t be a force in improving the transition defense played by the Lakers, who fell to 9-12 Sunday after showing little energy or effort from feeble start to out-of-gas finish. The Jazz had 19 fast-break points to only four by the Lakers. Utah scored 54 points in the paint, 20 more than the Lakers. That shouldn’t happen.

“I love Steve to death but I don’t know,” D’Antoni said. “Raja Bell said he was first-team all-defense because he guarded his man and Steve’s.”

At least D’Antoni hasn’t lost his sense of humor despite losing seven times in 11 games since he took over from Bernie Bickerstaff, whose brief tenure now seems like the good old days.

The Lakers are eight games behind Western Conference co-leaders Oklahoma City and San Antonio. They will have to make a concerted run just to get home-court advantage in the playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine how they will do that after another casual defensive performance that had nothing to do with missing two starters and everything to do with a lack of fire.

“We’re not very good right now,” D’Antoni said glumly afterward, mastering the obvious.

The offense was fine on Sunday. Dwight Howard was effectively double-teamed and took only 10 shots, but a rare boost from the bench in the form of 17 points from Jordan Hill and 16 from Jodie Meeks helped compensate. Kobe Bryant had only 10 points at the half but finished with 34 in 43 minutes.

It’s not that they didn’t battle back. They did, getting within three points early in the fourth quarter and five with 1:10 left. It’s that they continually put themselves in holes too deep to escape.

“Everybody wants to focus on the offensive end of the floor, but we know that defense and rebounding wins championships around here, and that’s what we’ve really got to concentrate on,” Bryant said.

With no time to waste. “We’ve got to get things rolling,” Meeks said. “It’s not panic time but it’s time for a sense of urgency. Everybody knows that. We’re getting to some very important basketball and we’ve just got to try to find a way to win.”

Howard said it’s a matter of players helping one another on defense. “We’ll learn how to do it,” he said. “We’re too good of a team to let everything slip away.”

Guard Chris Duhon said the problem isn’t strategy but lack of effort and execution. He has said that before, but his words sounded hollow Sunday after another loss because nothing has seemed to change.

It’s one thing to know what’s wrong and another to fix it. The shame is that the Lakers can’t seem to muster the collective energy to find ways to stop all their defensive leaks.

“It’s baffling,” Duhon said. “Until we do it we’re going to continue losing. Until we come out and play hard and go after teams and not expect teams to let down just because of who we are, things are not going to change.”

And they won’t automatically change when Nash and Gasol return.