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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Lakers suffering from repeat symptoms

By Dave McMenamin

This certainly isn't Kobe Bryant's first rodeo.

The 34-year-old veteran has just about seen it all in his 17-year career, from an NBA Finals Game 7 to a first-round flameout in the playoffs to everything in between.

So it's entirely feasible Bryant sensed that the Lakers weren't out of the woods just yet when asked about their progression at Wednesday's shootaround, hours before their 95-86 drubbing to the Utah Jazz that dropped them to 1-4 on the year.

"We just keep chipping away at it and when it happens, it happens," Bryant said when asked how long it would take for this team to click into gear. "There will probably kind of be peaks and valleys, as every regular season is, unless you win 70 games like the [Chicago] Bulls did. But, for most teams, it’s kind of up and down."

It certainly was a short peak, that one triumph against the winless Detroit Pistons, when the Lakers put it all together to shoot well (51.9 percent) and defend well (holding Detroit to 35.4 percent) on the same night.

But here they are, back in a proverbial valley just one game later, with many of the same problems popping up that suggest it will be some time before the Lakers make their way up the hill again.

There is a ton of unfamiliarity around this team. New faces in Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. New assistant coaches in Eddie Jordan, Steve Clifford and Bernie Bickerstaff. A new Princeton-style offense.

And there also has been a rash of new injuries derailing this squad’s development, from Bryant's foot to Nash's leg to Howard and Jordan Hill's backs.

The Lakers are five games into this thing. It's not even Thanksgiving yet. Heck, it's not even Veteran's Day yet.

So the patience angle is understood loud and clear.

But there are some problems that promise to be around even when the Lakers get healthier and their timing on offense improves.


Are they going to be able to shoot from the outside?

After being a cellar dweller when it came to leaguewide 3-point statistics last season, the Lakers brought in Meeks to knock down some triples. However, the only 3s Meeks can claim recently are the three straight DNP-CDs he has picked up after Mike Brown benched him in favor of Devin Ebanks. The Lakers shot 4-for-23 (17.4 percent) from deep Wednesday and Brown said many of the looks were wide open. Great shooters make wide-open shots. Good and not-so-good shooters can miss them.

Are they deep enough to contend with the rest of the benches around the league?

L.A.'s reserves were outscored 36-12 by Utah. Hill was the only player to have any sort of impact, grabbing 12 rebounds in 23 minutes ... but picking up a few of them trying to tip in his own misses at the rim, as he went just 1-for-5 from the field. Jamison gave the team nothing, which has been a recurring theme. Darius Morris had a nice and-1 layup in the fourth quarter, but he allowed Randy Foye to go off by not properly closing out on him on the perimeter. Foye's four fourth-quarter 3s sealed the game. Ebanks was the only other sub to get in and picked up three points and three rebounds in eight minutes, which you almost have to commend him for because eight minutes isn't enough playing time to do much of anything in an NBA game.

Are their legs young enough to contend with teams like Utah full of 20-something athletes that come at opponents in waves?

Bryant's mantra last season was that the Lakers had the talent to win it all; it's just that their margin of error was razor thin, so a lot of things had to go their way for it to happen. It feels the same way this year. Can L.A.'s bunch of thirty-somethings honestly sustain the attack they'll be facing all year long?

Things will get better in time with this Lakers team. There are plenty of reasons to believe that.

But the aforementioned questions make it seem like they'll be lingering for a while. Teams that don't manage to solve those riddles along the way, fall out of the picture. Teams that do (read: Miami figuring out it doesn't need a traditional center to play its best) can become champions.

Bryant has certainly seen it all. You can bet he sure hopes he isn't seeing a repeat of 2003-04, when the Lakers reloaded with two sure-fire Hall of Famers and still didn't have enough to take them all the way to the title.

There are problems that need to be resolved or this team will be spending more time in the shadows of basketball's valleys than on its sun-kissed peaks.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.