Originally written December 11, 2012 on Fox Sports Ohio:
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 straight flameout, their seventh overall to teams with .500 or worse records. That makes them 9-13. That makes the wheels officially coming off. That doesn't make them entirely desperate -- but they're getting close. 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. Or if they can make nearly enough. Remember, the Lakers were supposedly built to win a title this season. Right now, just making the playoffs might be considered a bang-up job. That may be a bit harsh, and there's still plenty of time. But at what point do the Lakers pick it up? At what point do they act like the champions they figured they would become -- if not in actual results, at least in mentality? The answers aren't easy, and even one former champion admits he has yet to figure it out. "This is the most challenging stretch I've had during my 17 years," Bryant said. "It's baffling." Bryant was as fantastic as ever. He scored 42 points. He set the example on defense. He played with energy, confidence and determination. For Bryant, that's nothing new. But for the Lakers, trailing by 15 points at half to a team that won four of its first 21 games -- well, that's not exactly what anyone had in mind when the NBA's latest superpower was put together. People talk about Miami's 9-8 start a couple seasons ago, about how the Heat later reached the Finals, how they won it all last year. This is different, though. This is much worse than that. The Lakers lose when Kobe scores more than 30. They lose when Dwight Howard grabs 20 rebounds (as he did Tuesday). They lose with Gasol. They just lose, way too much. "It's extremely frustrating," Bryant said. "We can be two completely different teams in both halves. It's like Jeckyll and Hyde. I don't know if we're too old, and 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." No one can. D'Antoni cited the lack of pace on offense, the overall focus on defense, and just about every other area that enables a team to be successful at this game. The Lakers, he implied, are doing none of them, at least not on a consistent basis. "Maybe it's me, I don't know," D'Antoni said. Actually, it's probably not just the coach. It's probably more like a combination of the players adjusting to the coach, the coach to the players, and the players to each other. And, yes, it may have something to do with the injuries to Nash and Gasol. Whatever it is, it isn't good, and well short of what the Lakers and everyone else around the league had planned. "We play at a very slow pace and we struggle and I'm just guessing," D'Antoni said, still looking at the ground. "I don't know because it's a mindset. You've got to search hard for some heart and " D'Antoni stopped, perhaps knowing that these Lakers' cannot be put into words. Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO
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