Derek Fisher had seen this type of behavior too many times, so he acted quickly.
The steadying influence in the Lakers' locker room felt the need to approach the whiteboard after another close call Friday against Washington and write a simple phrase -- "Boston Finals" -- followed by the number 24, a reference to a more painful time in recent team history.
The Lakers have frittered away large second-half leads in many games this season, reminding Fisher of the 24-point advantage they lost in Game 4 of last season's NBA Finals.
"That was a window of opportunity to be champions, to take that series to 2-2 with the fifth game on our home court," Fisher said. "We did the same thing that we're starting to do now -- allow teams to get back into a game by executing poorly on offense, turning the ball over, taking poor shots and becoming porous on defense. I just wanted to kind of remind us that if we want to get back to that point, we have to correct this now."
There could have been a lot of writing on the wall Friday night.
The Lakers (16-2) led the hapless Wizards (3-14) by 16 in the first quarter, but it was shaved to two a few minutes before halftime. More telling, the Lakers had pushed the lead back to 19 with 7:27 to play but then had to hold their breath as Caron Butler missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer, allowing them to escape, 106-104.
Fisher was asked if he felt alarmed by what he saw.
"Tired more so than alarmed," he said. "How many times do you want to bump your head against the same brick wall? The wall's not going to give. Why expend the mental and physical energy that it takes to have to rebuild momentum like that over the course of a 100-plus-game season?
"Nobody says you have to beat anybody by 20. However, if you do put yourself in a position where you're up 16 or you're up 20, we're talented enough and we're good enough that we should be able to extend that lead or hold it.
"We're not doing it. I don't know if we're getting bored or just losing that immediate focus that we start the game with. We definitely need to improve quickly."
Fisher isn't alone in his thinking.
Kobe Bryant said Friday's victory didn't "sit right" with him because the Lakers were "not moving in the right direction."
Coach Phil Jackson also picked up a marker Friday night and wrote on the whiteboard the names of the teams that had cut into large Lakers leads this season: Dallas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Indiana, Philadelphia and Washington.
The Lakers have won five of those six games, but their 2-1 record on a trip against some of the least of the East was another sticking point with Fisher.
"After the holidays, we start getting into the heavy road schedule. On the road, as you can see, it changes that quickly," he said, snapping his fingers. "If we let that continue to happen, it's going to bite us. If [Butler] had hit that three, that just would have been unbearable. That would have been just a terrible finish."
After another game in which the reserves blew a big lead, in which they became surprisingly selfish, Jackson threatened to cut their minutes by keeping starters in the game for a longer time.
The way the "Bench Mob" of Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza and Sasha Vujacic performed the last three games wasn't lost on the starters, either.
"This road trip, we've slipped a little bit," Bryant said. "We've got to get back to doing what we do best, which is have those leads and start squeezing things."
Bryant was reinserted in a hurry in Friday's game even though he had already started icing his knees, the usual sign that his night was over.
Not long before that, Odom expressed frustration after being taken out of the game. He yelled in the general direction of Jackson as he walked to the end of the bench.
The Lakers survived against Washington, no thanks to their reserves, who have been a source of strength most of the season.
"I think their own impulses of youth get away from them sometimes and they want to score too much," Jackson said. "They have to monitor that and understand team play."
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 570, 1330.
Where: Staples Center.
Records: Lakers 16-2, Bucks 9-12.
Record vs. Bucks (2007-08): 1-1.
Update: The Bucks weren't a playoff team the last two seasons, but they were a problem for the Lakers, winning three of their last four meetings. In the Bucks' 101-96 victory over Charlotte on Friday, Michael Redd had 25 points in his third game back after missing 14 games because of a sprained ankle.
-- Mike Bresnahan