Jazz power forward Paul Millsap knocks the ball from the grasp of Lakers… (Rick Bowmer / Associated…)
SALT LAKE CITY — Try as they might, the Lakers could not squeeze the Detroit Pistons into their carry-on luggage.
They instead packed more of the same haphazard play and sorry excuses that accompanied their 0-3 start.
Welcome to 1-4, the Lakers' most humble beginning since they had the same record 19 years ago during a sub-.500 season that required three coaches and a few buckets of antacid to get through.
If the Lakers intend to win in Miami in June, then success in Utah in November should be as simple as boarding a chartered plane. The Jazz is a borderline playoff team that was coming off three consecutive losses.
It was hard to tell any of that during Utah's 95-86 victory over the Lakers on Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz had more hustle, more energy and more muscle memory, its players' legs carrying them back on defense after offensive possessions that went awry.
The same could not be said for Dwight Howard during one confounding stretch in the second quarter.
While the Lakers center stood under the basket complaining to a referee that he had been fouled by Enes Kanter, his counterpart sprinted down the court for a dunk. On the Lakers' next possession, Howard fumbled the ball along the baseline and Utah's Randy Foye then made a three-pointer.
By the time the Lakers finally called a timeout, Howard was still complaining to a referee at midcourt.
"I told our guys that I was sorry for not getting back," Howard said, "but it happens to all of us. We just have to continue to play."
There was plenty to gripe about when it came to the Lakers. Coach Mike Brown lamented that his team was pushed around, missed 14 free throws and committed 19 turnovers.
That's only a partial list of concerns, really. The Lakers also have no reliable offensive options besides Howard and Kobe Bryant and are getting little production from their bench outside of Jordan Hill's hustle plays.
"It's not a good feeling to have such a good roster and as many good players here and not be able to capitalize and transform that quality into wins," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "We know we're going to get there sooner or later, hopefully sooner."
For those who say it's still early, that Steve Nash is out with a leg injury, that the Lakers are learning a new offense and that they just need time, those excuses are already getting older than a starting lineup with an average age of 31.2 even without the fossilized Nash.
This team should have enough to beat the Dallas Mavericks, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Jazz, teams that have already felled the Lakers in the season's first nine days.
Bryant (29 points) and Howard (19) did their part Wednesday, but fill-in point guard Steve Blake missed eight of 10 shots and Gasol was a 7-foot nonentity with five points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes.
"I'm out there a lot of minutes," Gasol said, "so I have to make things happen."
Brown says he wants his team to be clicking around the All-Star break, when the Lakers will have played about 50 games. At this rate, their record may be so middling by then that they could face the prospect of starting the first round of the playoffs on the road.
"Greatness takes time," Howard said. "Instead of us panicking, we have to just play through it, find ways to win our games and find our niche."
Their niche right now is mediocrity. What does 1-4 feel like?
"It feels like we have 77 games left," Metta World Peace said with an uneasy laugh.
They don't have nearly that long to figure this thing out.