These days, Bryant seems to shoot too much, or too little, and even if he gets it right, someone's nose may still be out of joint. Put it all together and it spells d-y-s-f-u-n-c-t-i-o-n.
The Lakers might not even be as good as they were a year ago, when they didn't have Rick Fox and Devean George available, to say nothing of Malone and Payton, and still might have turned the series around if Horry's three-pointer had gone down.
O'Neal and Bryant were OK then. Now the Lakers are scattered and the Spurs are tough enough to withstand rallies, as opposed to last spring when they blew one big lead after another en route to their title.
Plus, Horry is a Spur now, so there's always the possibility he could drop the hammer on his old teammates, which would have a certain symmetry.
This is a kick in the pants for Malone, whose modestly talented Utah teams maxed themselves out. He didn't even know there was another way, but he does now.
Now part of the "greatest array of talent ever assembled on one team," he can only dream of what the Lakers would be if his new program worked the way his old one did.
"Of course you think that," Malone said after Game 2 in his role as the new Laker stand-up guy. "Everybody always thinks, 'If this, if that,' but to play with talent like these guys, it would be unbelievable.
"But these are the cards you're dealt and it's just the way it is."
The question isn't simply whether the Lakers are good enough, but whether the forces that have bound them to this point are still greater than the forces that threaten to blow them apart.
Having fought each other through their days of wine and roses, they're not ideally suited to dealing with pressure in their season of the witch.
Nevertheless, the pressure is here.