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Lakers' core four have yet to share time on the floor

Dwight Howard remained sidelined against the Jazz as he continued his recovery from back surgery, leaving Bryant, Nash and Gasol to resume the getting-to-know-you phase without their starting center.

October 13, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Dwight Howard sits on the Lakers' bench during a preseason game against Golden State on Oct. 7. The possibility lingers that Howard may not play before the Oct. 30 season opener against Dallas.
Dwight Howard sits on the Lakers' bench during a preseason game against… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

The Lakers played their third preseason game with their superstar core having logged zero minutes together.

Dwight Howard remained sidelined Saturday as he continued his recovery from back surgery, leaving Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol to resume the getting-to-know-you phase without their starting center.

Bryant was back for the Lakers' exhibition game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center after sitting out one game with a strained right shoulder, but the possibility lingered that Howard may not return before the Oct. 30 season opener against Dallas. The game against the Jazz ended too late for this edition.

Kurt Rambis, who knows something about superstars coexisting as a member of the Showtime Lakers of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, said the current team faced a big challenge meshing on only one side of the ball.

"It's not going to take long to figure it out once they understand what environment offensively they're in," said Rambis, now an NBA analyst for ESPN. "How are we playing? Once they figure out how they're playing and what suits them, it will be easy for them to figure out how to play together.

"On the other end, it can take more time to determine how they're playing certain situations on the floor because everyone comes from different environments. You can call the same pick-and-roll coverage, but five teams can call it five different things. They need to get everyone on same page with terminology."

Rambis said defense was his primary concern about the Lakers, who are widely expected to challenge Miami and Oklahoma City for the NBA title. As prolific as the Lakers figure to be on offense, can they hold down the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook?

"You can't score and turn around and let them score too," Rambis said. "You have to be able to control teams and it's not going to be easy. There's a lot of talented teams in the Western Conference. People are capable of causing them matchup problems, so they have to get their defense in order so that they can find ways to get stops."

Things figure to be a lot more fun for the Lakers on offense. They have a dominant low-post presence in Howard, a savvy facilitator in Nash, a versatile big man in Gasol and one of the game's top closers in Bryant.

The burden on Bryant figures to lessen one season after he nearly won a scoring title while also largely having to direct the Lakers' offense.

"Last year everyone talked about the number of shots and the low percentage of shots," Rambis said, referring to Bryant making only 43% of his shots, "but he was forced to do things. He was basically the lone shot creator on the team, and there wasn't a lot of organization in their offense that allowed guys to get easy scoring opportunities and he had to be the guy. I don't anticipate something like that happening this year."

The Lakers lost their first two exhibition games, squandering early leads and eventually falling behind by double digits. Time to adjust expectations?

Not so much, Rambis said.

"I've always felt that the preseason has no bearing on the regular season and the regular season has no bearing on the playoffs," Rambis said. "It's a whole different environment. A loss, I'm not worried about it now. There's lineups, there's players, there's rotations that just won't exist when the regular season starts."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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