Reserve big man Jordan Hill blocks a shot by Utah forward Gordon Hayward. (Paul Buck / EPA )
The Lakers are a mess, there's no denying it.
They've lost seven of their last 10 (three of four with Pau Gasol sitting because of knee tendinitis). At 9-12, the team is down to 11th in the Western Conference.
"We're struggling right now," Coach Mike D'Antoni said Sunday night after a 117-110 loss to the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
D'Antoni took the team to task for lack of effort, primarily on the defensive end.
"It's not the offense. The offense is what it is, it's not great. It's not smooth," D'Antoni said. "We can change the offense, but there's no excuse for giving up 117 points."
Point guard Chris Duhon agreed with his coach. Duhon played more than 31 minutes, scoring 12 points while dishing 11 assists, but his counterpart, Mo Williams of the Jazz, scored 22 points and had nine assists.
"[It's] my energy and effort level. It's not about Xs and O's, it's just about effort, heart and getting it done," Duhon said. "Until we do it, we're going to continue to lose."
Neither Antawn Jamison nor Metta World Peace played particularly well at forward against the Jazz, but Jamison has been a spark in recent games. World Peace has been one of the team's more consistent players.
Reserve big man Jordan Hill was nothing but energy, playing one of his best games of the season Sunday (earning a second-half start over Jamison).
"I just want to win," said Hill, who had 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. "I just want to go out there and give all the energy I got and do what I got to do to help get the win."
Jodie Meeks contributed 16 points off the bench. The athletic guard didn't agree with the notion the Lakers weren't playing with passion.
"Everyone is playing hard," Meeks said. "My job is to come in and give a lot of effort. Whether I'm making shots or not, play hard on defense and space the floor. Everyone is playing with a sense of urgency. We have got to find a way to win."
Losing has a different effect on different players.
The Lakers are short two big-time starters and, frankly, the team's depth is shaky even at full strength. Every aspect of the team's performance, offense and defense, will improve with more talent spread out over 48 minutes.
All-Star guard Kobe Bryant didn't seem worried that the team's current situation could be more than just a temporary circumstance.
"The chemistry's not that bad, we're just not playing very well," Bryant said. "There's always a sense of urgency."
All-Star center Dwight Howard put a positive spin on it as well.
"We have to help each other," Howard said. "We will learn how to do it. We are too good of a team to let things slip away."
It would be a fine time for Gasol to return. D'Antoni said it's up to the forward to decide if the discomfort has subsided. Nash has begun to ramp up his activities but D'Antoni noted his point guard has yet to start running.
The Lakers will be a lot better once they're through this period. Effort may be part of the story but there's a ceiling to what this team can do with Darius Morris, Duhon, Hill, Jamison, World Peace and Meeks in the rotation.
Howard confirmed Sunday that he's still not himself yet after back surgery in April, although he's significantly improved since the season began.
Even with Bryant putting up some of the most efficient numbers of his career, the Lakers have a patched-together a roster that just can't compete at a high level . . . at least not every night.
Effort will take this group only so far and there's no true solution in searching for blame, outside of faulting Nash for breaking his leg and Gasol for his aching knees.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.