Updated: January 7, 2013, 5:46 PM ET
By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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1. Numbers Working Against Lakers After Loss

By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Dwight Howard had ice wrapped around his right shoulder, commonplace for a baseball pitcher who'd just thrown seven innings but a rare sight in an NBA locker room. Pau Gasol's nose was swollen to Humpty Hump size, with a cut across the bridge and gauze sticking out of his right nostril. Neither of those sights should jar and alarm the denizens of Lakerland as much the Staples Center scoreboard that read Denver 112, Lakers 105, and the Western Conference standings that show the Lakers in 11th place, with a 15-18 record.

The facts are more important than the theories about what's wrong, and at this point everyone from the front office to the disgruntled fans has a theory. The Lakers are one of only six NBA teams that allow their opponents to score more than 100 points a game. If the top eight teams in the Western Conference maintain their current pace, the Lakers must go 31-18 in their remaining 49 games to get the 46 victories it would likely take to make the playoffs.

Los Angeles Lakers
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesThese guys are looking for answers.

As basic as their task is -- play better defense, win more games -- they still haven't reached a consensus decision on how to do so. There are schisms of philosophy and application. They're in a hole and can't figure the way out.

In a continuance of their differing ruminations on chemistry following Saturday's practice, after Sunday's game Bryant welcomed a little dissension in the ranks, while Howard issued a plea for unity.

"I think it's fine for us to boil over a little bit," Bryant said. "It's fine to get a little chippy. I kind of get the sense in this locker room that that's finally starting to happen."

Bryant thrives on competition. He believes that's what brings out the best of players, even if they're competing for supremacy of the same team. Howard takes a different approach.

"Sometimes when you try too hard, you mess up," Howard said, putting together a nine-word sequence I could never imagine Bryant uttering. "We're just trying to put it all together, just quiet our spirits and play. Everything is so muffled, and we're not 'one' right now. We have to get to that place where we're one as a team and we move forward together. That's the only thing I can say about being patient."

Howard is right, the Lakers would be better off if their superstars were aligned and thought the same way. But that's not going to happen, just as the Lakers fans' dream scenario of Mike D'Antoni getting fired and Phil Jackson coming to the rescue isn't going to happen.

It's still going to be D'Antoni's system, with its lack of defensive emphasis or post-up opportunities for Howard and Gasol. It's worth noting that Bryant isn't publicly questioning the coach. He blamed the Lakers' defensive woes on execution, not strategy, which translates to players, not coaches.

"We're missing too many assignments," Bryant said.

That said, there's nothing to indicate the solutions will come from the coach's clipboard. D'Antoni began the evening saying the Lakers' defensive problems are connected to their struggles adapting to their rules in the offense. Then the defensive struggles persisted throughout a first quarter in which the offense was more inclusive then ever, with eight players scoring, Kobe Bryant dishing out four assists and even the forgotten Gasol and Antawn Jamison getting to sit at the table. The Lakers shot 58 percent in the opening 12 minutes, and yet they still trailed, 34-26. They were in for another long night of playing from behind, as was the case in their Friday loss to the Clippers.

Afterward, D'Antoni said, "we're having to dig out every game, and somehow we have to try to figure out why that's happening, and if we can solve it, then we need to do it."

The Nuggets played the game the way they wanted to, getting to the basket. They dominated the points-in-the-paint stat, 60-38. And even on a night the Lakers moved the ball more than normal, the Nuggets still had more assists, 33-30.

"That's who we are," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We're not going to beat anyone by paying one-on-one, we're going to beat people by playing basketball."

"We're not going to have a go-to guy as much as we're going to have a go-to team."

That usually works fine in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. The irony is the Laker team is set up better for the postseason, but it's the Nuggets who have a better chance to get there.


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