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HELENE ELLIOTT

Up-and-down Lakers slide into the All-Star break

Team remains inconsistent, which is nothing new, but that could get old quickly if it continues after the break and isn't fixed by the March 15 trade deadline.

February 23, 2012|Helene Elliott
  • Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, center, is congratulated by teammate James Harden after scoring a basket during the second quarter of the Lakers' 100-85 loss Thursday. With the Lakers struggling to make positive changes from within the lineup, the team might have to look elsewhere for improvement.
Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, center, is congratulated by teammate… (Sue Ogrocki / Associated…)

From Oklahoma City — Kevin Durant had bounced a quick, clever pass to James Harden to set up a fastbreak dunk with just over two minutes left in the third quarter, giving the Thunder a double-digit lead over the Lakers and triggering roars from the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

While Harden shook his head in disbelief and fans rose to their feet, Lakers Coach Mike Brown called a timeout. He moved onto the court and stood there tight-lipped, his grim expression reflecting the difficulty of finding a way to stop the young, tireless Thunder.

He could not. The Lakers, looking old and creaky against the swift and sharpshooting Thunder, slid into the All-Star break with a 100-85 loss Thursday night that left them 20-14, including 6-12 on the road.

"Our record is not something we're accustomed to or comfortable with at the All-Star break," Derek Fisher said, "but I think we're playing better basketball than what our record says. But you are what your record says you are."

In the Lakers' case, it says they're inconsistent, capable of brilliance one night and carelessness the next.

Not much new there, really, but it could get old very quickly if it continues after the break and isn't fixed by the March 15 trade deadline.

The Lakers followed their gritty win at Dallas on Wednesday with a second-half fade Thursday against the Thunder, unable to defend the fastbreaks that led to 21 of Oklahoma City's points or stop Durant's dominant 33-point performance.

"We didn't have any easy buckets. They had a whole lot of easy buckets based off our long shots and their transition game," Brown said.

Still, Brown said he is OK with the progress the team has made since he was thrust into a condensed training camp and a hectic schedule that has complicated his efforts to overhaul the team's defense and develop a potent offense.

The Lakers' defense has generally been impressive, but the team's efforts on offense have been mixed and its vulnerabilities at point guard and small forward continue to cost it. Fisher said the Lakers rely on Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to score 70 points and hope everyone else can simply chip in, and that can't continue.

"If we put teams in position where they had to defend everybody, we'll give ourselves a chance," Fisher said.

Too often that hasn't been the case, and Brown knows it.

"We're not going to be the No. 1 defensive team and the No. 1 offensive team in the league after being together in a shortened season in a month and a half or two months. Anybody that thinks that really doesn't know what they're thinking. It's going to take some time," he said.

"We're a top-three defensive team, we're probably in the middle of the pack offensively and we're sitting at a game and a half [out of first place] in our division. So with all the stuff that went on, the shortened season and so on and so forth, I'm OK with the progress that we're making because I feel like we still have room to grow.

"I don't think we've reached our ceiling, by no means. And yeah, I think we need to get better. … And I believe that we can."

Perhaps with new faces in the lineup. All-Star weekend is traditionally a chance for general managers to meet and initiate trades, and the team the Lakers have now could be different from the team they finish with.

Gasol is the obvious bait for a major deal because Bynum isn't likely to be traded for anyone but Dwight Howard, and the chances of that appear remote.

"With the trade deadline looming, personnel can change, if that's what ownership or management decides," Fisher said. "But if this is our team I think we're getting a better feel for who we are and what we're capable of doing. …

"It's frustrating, but at the same time to be kind of in the middle of the pack in the Western Conference where we've kind of had to adjust on the fly in terms of who we are — with new coaches, new players, an entirely new way of playing basketball — the core is pretty much the same. It was tough early, but we're settling in."

As long as the Lakers are not settling for what they have done so far.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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