Lakers Coach Mike Brown talks with his big men, Andrew Bynum (17) and Pau… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Questions about their compressed schedule were initially met with shrugs.
Sure, it was going to be exhausting, the Lakers said, just like it would be for every other NBA team.
Well, yes and no.
It's true that all teams will have played 66 games by the end of the regular season on April 26 as part of the lockout-condensed schedule. But that doesn't mean they're all taking the same path to get there.
The Lakers opened the season with back-to-back-to-back games, part of a wobbly-legged stretch in which they and Oklahoma City were the only teams to play 10 games in 15 days. The Clippers, by comparison, had played only six games.
The Lakers emerged from the early whirlwind with a 6-4 record, their worst 10-game start since they opened the 2005-06 season with Smush Parker at point guard and went 4-6.
There's no immediate letup for the Lakers, who open a stretch of four games in five days Tuesday at Staples Center against the Phoenix Suns.
"You'd rather not think about it," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said of the schedule. "We may be tired, but we're going to stay tired. That's just how it's going to be."
The fatigue factor has been compounded by a variety of issues, not the least of which is a starting lineup with an average of age of 31. Kobe Bryant is 33, and Derek Fisher might feel like 37 going on AARP.
The Lakers also are attempting to learn the preferences of new Coach Mike Brown while trying to scrape the triangle offense from the recesses of their brains. Occasionally, they even get to squeeze in a practice between games to accelerate the process.
The lack of rest hasn't irked Bryant, who has hoisted a league-high 23 shots per game despite a torn ligament in his right wrist, as much as questions about his stamina.
"Do I look tired?" he asked with a steely-eyed glance toward a reporter who had inquired about fatigue.
Of course, exhaustion is only one of the Lakers' worries. They have a bench that has combined for a measly 24.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game — totals that have declined since sixth man extraordinaire Lamar Odom departed for the Dallas Mavericks.
Reserve shooting guard Shannon Brown is also gone, having moved on to Phoenix, but the Lakers still have Metta World Peace, for better or worse. The small forward's minutes have dipped along with his production this month, when he has averaged 3.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 17.8 minutes a game.
The Lakers also might want to mix in a made three-pointer among all the misses; their 24.1% accuracy from beyond the arc ranks second-to-last in the league.
There is also the matter of being winless on the road more than two weeks into the season.
Given all the obstacles, Brown said his team was actually exceeding his expectations. Two of the Lakers' losses came while center Andrew Bynum served a season-opening four-game suspension for leveling Jose Barea in last year's playoffs.
"In our last eight [games] we're 6-2 and our two losses are at Denver and at Portland," Brown said, "so that's not bad for me throwing all this new stuff at them and keeping them in the gym as long as I have. I have to give them some credit for where we're sitting right now."
Lakers fans could be in for a feast by the end of the season based on a defense that has allowed 90.7 points per game, fifth-best in the league. Every time the Lakers hold an opponent under 100 points in a home victory, fans get free tacos.
Brown has given his team only one day off, after it started the season with three games in three days. He continues to wrestle with the need to keep players fresh while helping them learn his system.
He has condensed his playbook and shortened pregame shoot-arounds, which have largely become low-intensity walk-throughs.
That's not to say the Lakers have always been a bundle of energy once taking the court. They slogged their way through the first half of a victory over Golden State on Friday, scoring only 35 points, and have been prone to turnovers, averaging 16.7 per game.
"We've been learning on the fly, which is learning in games, and that's a byproduct of all our turnovers," forward Matt Barnes said. "I think we're trying to do the perfect thing instead of just going out there and playing basketball. It's just going to take a little more time for us to jell on the offensive end."
There is an upside to the gruesome early schedule. For one thing, the Lakers will not have another back-to-back-to-back situation the rest of the season.
There will also be more opportunities to rest later this month. The Lakers will get to enjoy their first stretch of two consecutive days without a game on Jan. 17-18. The following week, there will be a five-day period that includes only one game.
What might it feel like to go two days without a game?
"It will be a shock, probably, to our bodies," Gasol said. "Definitely, rest is important, recovery is important. Otherwise, if you force the body too hard too long, it will break down."