CLEVELAND — Mike D’Antoni stood outside the visiting locker room and stared at the ground.
His eyes were bloodshot, his hair a mess, his tie out of sorts. It was as if he had spent the previous 48 minutes tumbling in a clothes dryer.
“The state that we’re in, that’s inexcusable, and we’ve got to figure it out,” he said.
D’Antoni was speaking after Tuesday’s 100-94 loss to the Cavaliers. It’s the Lakers’ fifth loss in their past six games, their sixth overall to teams with .500 or worse records.
That makes them 9-13. That means the wheels officially are coming off. That doesn’t make them entirely desperate — but they’re getting close. Oh so dangerously close.
It’s true that they still don’t have Steve Nash, out with a leg injury. It’s true that Pau Gasol missed another game with tendinitis in his knees.
But if Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard can’t get it done, well, you have to wonder how big of a difference a healthy Gasol and Nash will really make. At the very least, you can’t help but wonder if the difference Nash and Gasol make will be nearly enough.
This, folks, is downright embarrassing.
“That’s a harsh word,” D’Antoni told reporters. “You may be embarrassed. I’m not.”
Perhaps a better word to describe the Lakers’ situation is “frustrating.” Or how about “perplexing.”
Regardless of the expression used, the bottom line is the Lakers were supposedly built to win a title. Everything else would be considered a failure.
But the way things are going, just making the playoffs would be considered a bang-up job.
Granted, there’s still plenty of time. But at what point do the Lakers pick it up? At what point do they behave like the champions everyone assumed they’d become? At what point do they at least show signs of pulling it together?
Because today, man, this ain’t easy on the eyes. And when is the last time you could say that about the Lakers?
“This is the most challenging stretch I’ve had of my 17 years, and the most baffling, too” Bryant said.
Of course, Bryant was as fantastic as ever. He scored 42 points. He led by example on defense. He played with energy, confidence and determination.
For Bryant, that’s nothing new.
But trailing by 15 points at halftime to an opponent that had won four of its first 21 games — well, for the Lakers, that’s a fairly novel experience.
Colder than the Heat
Some folks have compared this situation to Miami’s two years ago. That’s when the stacked Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stumbled to a 9-8 start. Then they made it to the Finals. Then they won the whole thing last season.
This is different, though. These renovated Lakers’ are worse than those Heat ever were in 2010. It’s really not even close.
The Lakers lose when Kobe scores more than 30. They lose when Dwight Howard grabs 20 rebounds (as he did Tuesday). They lose when they start fast and finisher faster.
They just lose, a lot, period.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Bryant said. “We’re still finding ways to lose games.”
Then he pulled out another buzzword.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “We can be two completely different teams in both halves. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde. I don’t know if we’re too old, it takes us too long to get started or what.”
Then Bryant paused, searching for a solution. He came up with nothing.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said, slowly. “It’s hard for me to put my finger on it.”
It’s hard for everyone, including the man who was hired a week into the season to figure it out.
“We play at a very slow pace and we struggle,” D’Antoni said. “Maybe it shifts over to defense. Maybe we’re slow. Maybe we can’t do it.”
Maybe the Lakers’ can’t do it? Seriously? With Bryant, Howard, Nash and Gasol?
Anyone who suggested as much, oh, six weeks ago would’ve been fitted for a straightjacket. Now, the doubt is coming from the Lakers’ own coach. And it’s justified.
On the bright side (well, the not-so-awful side), the season is barely a quarter old. The Lakers still have 60 games to prove they’re something more than one of the NBA’s biggest busts.
Howard, for one, is willing to play the role of believer.
“We’ve got to stay focused and stay strong,” he said. ”We can’t let this break who we are as a team.”
Howard added that the Lakers “want to win, we’re sick of losing.”
Now, all the Lakers need to do is go out and do it. At first, that seemed like such a given. The fact they haven’t is, well, yeah. It’s baffling.