- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Another night, another game spent watching the Los Angeles Lakers slog through their offensive sets and throw up blanks so off the mark it looked like they were shooting medicine balls instead of basketballs.
The Lakers lost 92-80 to the Orlando Magic on Friday, shooting just 38.2 percent from the field and 30 percent on 3-pointers (6-for-20), and ultimately failing to eclipse the 90-point plateau for the third straight game.
It's been ugly to watch: 73 points, also on 38.2 percent shooting, against the Mavericks (albeit in a win); 87 points on 42 percent against Miami; and this latest dud against Orlando. On Friday the Lakers set season lows for points and shooting in a half, scoring just 31 on 11-for-38 (28.9 percent) in the first two quarters.
When Phil Jackson retired at the end of last season, the assumption was that his voice, his presence and his championship experience would be the hardest things to replace. Turns out so far, at least, it's his triangle offense.
Through the Lakers' rocky 10-7 start to the season, new coach Mike Brown has done a fine job of implementing his defense; coming into Friday the Lakers ranked fifth in points allowed (89.9) and second in opponents' field-goal shooting (41.1 percent). But L.A. has looked illiterate running Brown's read offense.
"Most of the time [in the past] it was our defense letting us down; we were giving up 110 to 115 points," said Lakers center Andrew Bynum. "Now we're playing pretty solid D and we're just struggling to score."
This scoring dry spell comes on the heels of an eight-game stretch, during which the Lakers were fairly serviceable on offense, averaging 96.4 points and going 6-2 in the process.
Kobe Bryant was averaging 38 of those points himself while shooting 50 percent from the field during that recent run of eight tilts, which included four consecutive 40-point games for Bryant.
After the loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday, Bryant suggested he wanted to return to his green-light, gunning days so his scoring could provide what he called a "cushion." He said it would give L.A. the lead and some leeway in order for the rest of the guys to work out their kinks on offense, while at the same time not sacrificing wins.
Bryant's intentions came from the right place, and you can't blame the NBA's No. 6 all-time scorer for wanting to do what he does best. But Bryant and the Lakers need to resist the urge to just hand him the keys and run rampant on offense, because that's just a stopgap fix, not a permanent solution.
Bryant actually changed his tune on Friday. Rather than reverting back into hero mode after a game in which he scored 30 points on 11-for-22 shooting while his teammates combined for just 50 on 18-for-54 (33.3 percent), Bryant focused on the Lakers outscoring the Magic 49-44 on 47.4 percent shooting in the second half.
"We did a great job," Bryant said of the second two quarters. "We got a lot of great looks. I mean, a lot of them. We just got to keep hitting the open man and those shots will fall."
Brown echoed Bryant's upbeat outlook:
"In the second half we played with the energy, the sense of urgency, that we needed to on both ends of the floor, and that was good to see," he said. "We had great ball movement, great spacing. We played the way that I think eventually we're going to be capable of and it showed in the box score, the stat sheet, and it showed on the court."
Pau Gasol, who missed eight of the 12 shots he took, stressed the importance of him and other open teammates getting the chance to take those shots in the future.
"Continue to share the ball," Gasol said. "Continue to make the right pass and trust that it will get to the open guy and the open guy will shoot it, and that's the best we can do. If we continue to do that, it's not going to be frustration or anything because we're making the right decisions."
It's is a tough pill to swallow. The Lakers have one of the most potent offensive weapons ever to play the game and need to take their finger off the detonate button to allow the rest of their infantry to have a chance to attack.
"I want to make sure that I give these guys an opportunity so that I see what I have with them," Brown said, "because the reality of it is, I know what I have with Kobe. I know I can go through Kobe.
"I know I can do this or that for Kobe and it will work out, but I'm just trying to see what else I have with the rest of the guys."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
14hEthan Sherwood Strauss