Dwight Howard reacts to being called for a defensive foul during the Lakers'… (Harry How / Getty Images )
The Lakers' holiday to-do list is getting lengthy for a team that thought it had finished its shopping over the summer.
Spending $46.5 million on Dwight Howard and Steve Nash has left surprisingly little under the tree six weeks into the season.
This team still lacks more than just stocking stuffers. It needs major items such as improved defense, sustained effort and more effective communication on the court.
Oh, and there's one more thing that has to happen as the Lakers begin a four-game trip Tuesday in Cleveland.
"Win," Howard said Sunday after the Lakers sustained a 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz, their seventh defeat in their last 10 games. "That's the only thing on the list is to win."
The trip that also includes stops in New York on Thursday, Washington on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday features what seem like a pair of gimme games, against the woeful Cavaliers (4-17) and Wizards (2-15).
Then again, there has been no such thing as a sure thing for the Lakers (9-12). Six of their losses have come against teams that entered Monday with .500 or worse records.
But if the Lakers don't start winning consistently now, then when?
"To me, this will be the time if we're going to do it," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Now, again, I've been saying this for about a month now, so I'm getting tired of saying it and I'm sure you guys are getting tired of hearing it."
Each stop on the trip has the potential to be problematic.
Cleveland is the site of one of the most horrendous road defeats in Lakers history, a setback in February 2011 that was so unfathomable broadcaster John Ireland had promised to walk home if the defending NBA champions lost to a team that would win only 19 games that season.
The Lakers lost. Ireland took the charter flight home as usual.
The Cavaliers should be bolstered by the return of star point guard Kyrie Irving, who is expected to play Tuesday after sitting out the previous 11 games because of a broken left index finger. Just what the Lakers needed with top point guards Nash and Steve Blake still out.
New York seems like a sure bet … for the Knicks, who are 8-0 at Madison Square Garden.
Any thoughts that a win in Washington would be a certainty were erased last week when the Wizards, on their home court, defeated the Miami Heat. And Philadelphia, even with Andrew Bynum sidelined by lingering knee issues, has managed to post a winning record.
That's more than the Lakers have to show for their $100-million payroll.
They're giving up too many points while exerting too little energy for a team with NBA title aspirations.
"The chemistry is not that bad," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "We're just not playing very well."
The latest indignities included Utah's 35-point second quarter and the Lakers' 20-point shortfall against the Jazz in points in the paint. Howard's frustration with the Lakers' lack of cohesion on defense was palpable.
"We've talked before about it," Bryant said of Howard's visible irritation. "The most important thing that we can do is continue to push, continue to try to minimize our mistakes as much as possible, limit our turnovers, that's about it."
The Lakers will open their trip 5 1/2 games behind the Clippers, who hold the No. 4 seeding in the Western Conference, an important designation because only the top four teams secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The last team to finish fourth in the West in a full season, the Oklahoma City Thunder, won 55 games in 2010-11. The Lakers would have to go 46-15 the rest of this season to reach that victory total.
Good luck with that.
Howard was asked Sunday if it was scary to look at the standings and realize the Lakers wouldn't make the playoffs if they started that day.
"If the playoffs started in December?" Howard asked. "They never start in December, so it's not scary. We will get there."
Times staff writer Melissa Rohlin contributed to this report.