Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni calls a play from the bench in the fourth… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers are winning games in fits and starts. The recent five-game winning streak began before Steve Nash and Pau Gasol returned from injuries, culminating in a big Christmas Day win over the New York Knicks.
If the Lakers were back, it wasn't for long. They went on to drop two of their next three.
Coach Mike D'Antoni recently spoke about what he needs from his players more than anything else: Energy.
"I'm a big believer in that the ball will find energy," D'Antoni said. "With Pau and Steve on the floor -- especially because I know Steve -- if you play with a lot of energy on both sides of the floor, for whatever reason, you'll end up with a good game."
D'Antoni is puzzled as to why the Lakers aren't bringing consistent energy. Be it Dwight Howard still working his way back from off-season surgery, the team's age, talent level or even just lack of passion, the Lakers don't always seem to have the will to dominate their opponents.
For D'Antoni's system to work, on both ends, it requires constant effort. He'll push his players for big minutes in games but offsets the workload with shorter practices and extra days off.
Defensively the Lakers coach has been experimenting with different lineups to offset the lack of speed represented by Howard and Gasol. Size and height are an asset but they can also be a liability.
D'Antoni has looked to Jodie Meeks, Darius Morris and Jordan Hill as energetic role players with young legs. While there have been some results, ultimately the team seems to fall apart when Howard and Gasol aren't at their best.
Perhaps the ball isn't going inside enough. But then Howard had plenty of touches against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday but he just couldn't get his game going.
"The ball will find him. We don't have to call a lot of plays, [Dwight] will be open," D'Antoni said. "We don't want to call people's numbers. We don't want to iso. We don't want to go, 'OK, you're going here,' 'We're going there.' We want to play basketball. We have basketball players and everybody plays off each other. Some nights it's [Howard]. Some nights it's Kobe [Bryant]. Some nights it's Steve. Everybody contributes, and to me, another team can't scout you because you're just playing."
But that assumes the Lakers have the energy to do it on both ends of the floor, and that's just not the case each and every night.
General Manager Mitch Kupchak and D'Antoni need to seriously evaluate the Lakers roster. Are there fundamental flaws, or is this simply an adjustment period as the team learns to play together?
Would the addition of one athletic, young but experienced defender make all the difference or is there something else deeper to blame?
At 15-16, the Lakers don't exactly have a lot of time left to figure things out.
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Email Eric Pincus at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.