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Lakers face the battle of the years

The team looked flat against the younger Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. Pau Gasol says better communication can help create energy.

January 03, 2013|By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
  • Kobe Bryant reacts to a call in second half action against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Kobe Bryant reacts to a call in second half action against the Philadelphia… (Paul Buck / EPA )

There may be no compromise short of a roster overhaul that can save a divided Lakers Nation from its biggest worry heading into 2013.

You know, the physical cliff.

The Lakers are Paleolithic by NBA standards, with an average age of 28.4. Three of their starters are already in need of retirement-benefits advisors: Pau Gasol is 32, Kobe Bryant is 34 and Steve Nash turns 39 next month.

With advancing age come not only wear-and-tear injuries (see Gasol's knees, assorted Bryant body parts) but wear-you-out nights like the one the Lakers experienced Tuesday in losing to Philadelphia. The younger and feistier 76ers made everyone wearing purple and gold resemble old-timey characters out of a faded black-and-white photo.

"When we have games like that, everything's an uphill battle for us," Bryant said after scoring 36 points in the Lakers' 103-99 loss. "When we play fresh, when we play energized, we're a completely, completely different team."

Perhaps the most disturbing component of the Lakers' sluggish play was that they were coming off a three-day layoff. They essentially extended it to four.

"Everyone should have had their legs," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said.

They didn't always use them.

Dwight Howard mostly stood around on offense. He took seven shots, the only one that fell through the net doing so midway through the third quarter.

Gasol's jumper was flat, the 7-footer making only two of 12 shots and routinely being beaten to the basket by his 76ers counterparts.

"We just didn't keep our activity level as high as we needed to in key moments and they got too many wide-open looks at our basket," Gasol said, "so we just need to stay consistent at that end of the floor just in case we miss shots."

Gasol suggested that the Lakers should adopt an older-but-wiser approach to compensate for their energy deficiencies.

"We're not the most athletic team in the league, we know that," he said. "But we are experienced and we should create some energy for ourselves out there, and I think it starts by us talking to each other, by communicating and by letting our teammate know that we're there. That will create some energy that we need on that end of the floor."

The Lakers with the most pep Tuesday also happened to be two of the youngest. Forward Jordan Hill, 25, scored eight quick points in the first quarter while exhibiting plenty of activity around the basket, and guard Jodie Meeks, also 25, delivered a pair of second-quarter highlights with a reverse dunk and an over-the-shoulder flip-in.

"Jordan and Jodie both played hard," D'Antoni said. "But that shouldn't be an exception. Everybody should play like that."

Forward Metta World Peace, 33, doesn't accept the age-old age explanation for his team's listlessness.

"That's no excuse, because the [New York] Knicks are playing great," World Peace said, referring to the NBA's oldest team. "You can't use that as an excuse for us. Thanks for trying."

The Lakers' latest loss left World Peace to do some explaining on a different front.

He had predicted before the season that the Lakers would eclipse the Chicago Bulls' regular-season record of 72 victories. That quickly became impossible after the Lakers' slow start, but it didn't prevent World Peace from saying Monday that his team would match the 1995-96 Bulls' winning percentage of 87.8% the rest of the season now that all of its key players are back from injuries.

To do that after losing to Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Lakers would have to go 45-6 the rest of the season. Good luck with that.

"We're not worried about it," World Peace. "We've done impossible things before."

Getting younger would top them all.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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