Kobe Bryant shoots over Orland Magic guard Arron Afflalo. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers bid farewell to .500 on Sunday in a season that has far greater aspirations.
Wait, you mean they fell below the break-even mark?
Yep. You can't presume anything around here.
With little nuisances such as a disappearing offense and an all-too-visible lack of energy supposedly behind them, the Lakers should have returned to their regularly scheduled dominance against the sorry Orlando Magic.
Instead, it was the Lakers who sent their regrets during another shake-your-head defeat at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant couldn't defend, Dwight Howard couldn't make enough free throws and Pau Gasol couldn't do much of anything after being benched in the final six minutes of a 113-103 setback.
"There's no excuses to be made," said Bryant, who scored 34 points but seemingly gave up as many on the perimeter to his counterparts. "There's no whining or putting your head down. We have the talent to make adjustments and you have to make them."
They better start soon.
It was the fifth bad loss of the season and the third since Coach Mike D'Antoni took over, also counting defeats against Sacramento and Indiana.
This is progress?
At this rate, bring back Bernie Bickerstaff or maybe hire the coach of an AAU outfit such as the New England Playaz and let him roll out the ball. This team has way too much talent for listless showings such as this.
Of course, the issue has never been the names on the backs of the jerseys. It's been about what's underneath the front.
"It's a Catch-22," D'Antoni said. "They just think they can just kind of do it on their own sometimes. Oh, we're OK, we're only down by one. We're fine. We're fine. We're fine. No, you're not fine.
"It's a little bit of an overconfidence thing that we have to hope by our record that we shouldn't be there. But we're going to keep working, we're going to try to solve some problems."
Bryant showed his displeasure after practice Thursday when he called out his teammates and rearranged some items on a courtside table.
A more explosive display might be in order after the Lakers (8-9) made the previously five-win Magic look like playoff contenders.
"I will kick everyone's [rear] in this locker room if I have to," Bryant said. "That's just the attitude you have to have."
This wasn't so much about Gasol being sat in favor of Antawn Jamison over the final minutes or Howard making only nine of 21 free throws, including seven of 14 in the fourth quarter, after the Magic went to a hack-a-Howard strategy.
It was more about giving up freebies on the other end.
Arron Afflalo repeatedly made open jumpers on the way to 30 points and former USC star Nikola Vucevic made way too many easy forays into the lane for dunks. The Magic scored 40 points in the fourth quarter and shot 50% for the game.
The Lakers have been lunging forward only to stutter-step backward now for far too long.
They appeared to be on their way recently with a 26-point victory over Dallas on the road. Then they returned home and scored 77 points in a loss to Indiana.
They nearly matched that output in just the first half in the next game against Denver, only to revert to their lackluster ways against the Magic.
"Whatever it is, we have to find a way to be consistent," said Jamison, who had a relatively quiet 10 points one game after splurging for 33. "One night the offense is great, the next night it's horrible. One night the defense is unbelievable. The next night it's, what's going on?
"You keep telling yourself, we have to be patient, we have to be patient and eventually it will come. But we're in December right now and these problems should not be taking place."
If they keep popping up much longer, there won't be basketball in May or June for a team whose worries have shifted from reaching the NBA Finals to getting back to .500.