The Lakers don’t even talk a good game

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Lakers held a clear-the-air meeting Wednesday morning. This much was clear Wednesday night — they’re still awful.

Their latest humiliation came in a 106-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, with the added caveat that Dwight Howard left in the second quarter after aggravating a shoulder injury at FedEx Forum.

Somehow, it seemed to be the least of the Lakers’ concerns after a testy morning in which “guys went at each other a little bit,” said a person who witnessed the meeting, which took place before the team’s shoot-around.

Kobe Bryant acknowledged in front of teammates that he could be difficult to play with, and wondered aloud whether that was an issue for Howard. Howard’s response was unclear, though he did not engage Bryant in nearly as vocal a manner as Bryant engaged him.

“He didn’t go back at Kobe,” said the person with knowledge of the meeting.

After Wednesday’s game, Bryant wasn’t sure whether his message got through to Howard.

“I don’t know,” he said curtly.

Does he hope it got through?

“No,” he said sarcastically.

Of equal importance, is Howard bothered by the way Bryant plays?

“No, I’m not,” Howard said while walking to the team bus. “It’s something that…we’ve all got to learn how to play together.”

Meanwhile, the Lakers (17-25) are firmly lodged in 12th place in the Western Conference, closer to the West’s basement than the final playoff spot. They are four games behind eighth-place Portland and three games ahead of bottom-dwellers Phoenix and New Orleans.

Bryant has seen a lot in his 17 NBA seasons. This might be the hardest one he has endured.

“Certainly getting there,” he said. “That Rudy T. one was a pretty hard one.”

The 2004-05 season featured a midseason coaching change (Frank Hamblen for Rudy Tomjanovich), a 2-19 slide to end the season and a Lakers playoff absence for only the second time since 1976.

The morning meeting seemed to have affected Howard. He was contrite with reporters after the shoot-around, which lasted an hour longer than usual, and apologized for demanding more touches two days earlier after a 95-83 loss to Chicago.

After scoring only eight points on five shots against Chicago, Howard kept telling reporters to “look at the stat sheet” after that game.

“That was immature,” he said Wednesday. “I shouldn’t have done it.

“I’ve just got to go out there and dominate defensively and make it tough for teams. I just have to get back to doing that and not worry about the offense.”

He wasn’t doing much of anything against Memphis when he aggravated the torn labrum in his right shoulder that sidelined him for three games this month.

He was injured while trying to get through a screen set by Rudy Gay and planned to have the shoulder examined Thursday by a specialist. He missed all four of his shots, and had two points and two rebounds in 14 minutes.

Bryant had 29 points on 11-for-23 shooting. There wasn’t much scoring beyond that. Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol combined for 28 points on eight-for-19 shooting.

The Lakers were outrebounded, 52-34, and demolished in points in the paint, 60-34.

No, the morning get-together didn’t exactly create the desired effect.

“You never want those kind of meetings because that means we’re in trouble a little bit. That doesn’t happen when you’re 40-1,” Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It needed to be said, it needed to happen, and now it’s up to us to make positive stuff out of it.”

D’Antoni then offered a uniquely accurate view of the Lakers’ woes.

“Have you ever watched an All-Star game? It’s god-awful,” he said. “Everybody gets the ball and goes one on one and then they play no defense. That’s our team. That’s us. We’re an All-Star team.

“And we haven’t learned that there’s a pecking order. There’s the one guy, the two guy, the three guy and the four guy. It might not be the same guy every night, but somebody’s got to accept being the fourth guy. And if you’ve been the first guy all your life, that’s hard to accept. And that’s what happens in All-Stars and that’s what happened with us. And we haven’t overcome it.”

D’Antoni started the team meeting by saying he was tired of reading newspaper stories about players questioning his offense and wanting more touches. Bryant said after the loss in Chicago that the team need to slow down the pace and employ more post-ups.

D’Antoni also told the team to start worrying less about offense, and more about defense. The Lakers were fifth in scoring (102.6 points a game) but 26th in defense (101.4 points a game) before Wednesday.

Then he asked the players to speak up.

Steve Nash, in his first season with the Lakers, said he didn’t care how the Lakers played, whether it was via pick-and-roll or fastbreak or whatever. He just wanted everybody to be comfortable in the system. It was seen as a sacrifice by Nash, who played four seasons under D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense in Phoenix and won two MVP awards.

Howard, while talking with reporters after the meeting, tried to hit reset on the Lakers’ season, which reached its midpoint Monday.

“I think this will be the start of a new season for us,” he said.

He was wrong. It was a continuation of everything that had ailed them all season … and then some.