- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- Pau Gasol slowly emerged from his locker after the Los Angeles Lakers' embarrassing 125-94 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, struggling to fit into his sports coat. Navigating flimsy fabric with a 7-foot-5 wingspan is never easy. When Gasol finally managed to slip on the jacket, he peered down at his right wrist only to notice the button on his shirt sleeve was undone, and the frustration washed over his face. Gasol had to take the coat off, fasten the button on his sleeve and put the coat back on all over again, muttering a curse word under his breath that also could have applied to what his team looked like against Golden State.
Yes, it was that kind of night for the Lakers, who found a way to flush all the good will and positive vibes they built up with their season-opening win against the Los Angeles Clippers with a no-show against the Warriors.
"We didn't really create any energy for ourselves," Gasol said. "There was no communication, and on a back-to-back you just got to do that. And we didn't do it. We were stagnant on both ends of the floor, we were not active enough. So, that's what's going to happen when we do those things."
Gasol, who has been to the Finals three times, won two championships and played in countless other high-pressure international games, knows that rings aren't won or lost in the second game of a season. He could have rationalized the loss, chalked it up to tired legs against a rested, talented opponent, tipped his hat to Klay Thompson for exploding for a career-high 38 points and called it a day, but he wouldn't let it go.
This might not end up being the most glorious season in Lakers history, but it certainly doesn't have to be the most disgraceful one, either.
"It just tells us that we're not at the top of our game, defensively and offensively, we're going to get beat," said Gasol. "Badly.
"So, we just got to be fully energized, focused, locked in [on] every guy on the floor, personnel, game plans, everything. We just got to be extremely focused on everything, otherwise we're going to struggle."
He was acting as the default team spokesman with Steve Nash taking the night off as the team employed "Operation: Save the Canadian" for the first time -- resting him for one game in the first of the Lakers' 19 back-to-back sets -- and Kobe Bryant was still keeping himself sparse as he recovers from his torn Achilles.
The Lakers never established a winning culture last season even if their talent far outweighed what they have on their hands this year. Now, with Dwight Howard putting up 17 points, 26 rebounds and two blocks in the Houston Rockets' season-opening win and Metta World Peace riding the subway to his New York Knicks debut victory, and even Darius Morris getting some solid playing time in Philadelphia's upset of Miami, it was time to set the terms of what this year's Lakers are going to be about before all of them end up like Howard and World Peace and Morris -- on different teams for the opening night of the 2014-15 season
"I think we got to be conscientious of all the little things we got to do on a regular basis if we want to have a chance," Gasol said. "That's basically it. We can't bring it one night, not bring it the next and expect to win. Especially on the road and especially on a back-to-back. That's not going to happen for you. So, either you understand that or you fail."
It was interesting to see Gasol take up the task-master role on this team, but really, what choice does he have? Who is left in that locker room, outside of the ailing Nash and the sidelined Bryant, with the voice to make a difference? Jordan Farmar has some natural leadership abilities, but he's still just 27, was out of the league last year and, without a starting role, isn't empowered to take on the part of tone setter. The laid back Nick "Swaggy P" Young? The dedicated, yet mostly silent, Steve Blake? The handful of young guys who are just hoping to secure a multiyear deal and not rock the boat? No, no and no. It has to be Gasol.
And in Gasol's mind, it has to be now.
"We just can't try to do it on our own," said Gasol, who saw his team assist on just 19 of its 35 baskets against Golden State. "Good and better defensive teams are going to force us to make the extra pass, force us to space the floor well, force us to move without the ball.
"We just can't try to do it on our own and on the other end, we got to cover for each other and be active. If we're going to be small and play a little smaller, we're going to have to be active, get our hands on balls, just scramble as much as possible and hustle. Tonight that wasn't the case. There were too many open shots for guys that are dead-eye shooters.
"So, that just tells you something's not right."
Sure, it's only two games into the season, but early detection can thwart disaster down the road.
1dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann