Lakers power forward Pau Gasol continues to seek a way to fit into the rotation… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)
To smile or not to smile? Bench or start Pau Gasol? Use Kobe Bryant heavily or rest him a bit?
The questions keep permeating the Lakers, winners of 17 games, losers of 22, keepers of 11th place in the Western Conference.
Worst things first: The Lakers might have another mess on their hands. Gasol wants to start games and finish them. Coach Mike D'Antoni isn't so sure about that.
Gasol came off the bench Thursday in the Lakers' 99-90 loss to Miami, a move characterized by D'Antoni as a way to slowly bring him back after the four-time All-Star missed five games because of a concussion.
So Earl Clark starts again Sunday at Toronto?
"We'll see," D'Antoni said. "I don't know if that's viable. I'm hearing vibes that [Gasol] probably doesn't like that. That's just a wild guess."
It's not wild. It's completely accurate.
"I've been a starter my entire career," Gasol said. "I want to continue to be a star starter."
Hey, maybe it's not too late for him to win sixth man of the year.
"That wouldn't be an incentive for me," Gasol said.
Fun times all around.
Gasol was fairly efficient in 25 minutes against Miami, collecting 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. Clark had six points and seven rebounds, his second consecutive single-single after averaging 15 points and 10.7 rebounds the prior three games.
Meanwhile, yet another former Lakers player weighed in on Dwight Howard's friendly on-court demeanor. And it's someone Howard has heard from in the past, often negatively.
"I admit, I was a smiler but when I stepped on the court … I took care of business," TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal said in a critique of Howard. "He's a nice guy but we don't want to see a nice guy. We want to see him throwing [elbows], making people quit, making coaches complain and make them change the rules. That's what I want to see.
"I agree with Robert Horry. Take the headband off and stop smiling. When you're four games below [.500], there's nothing to smile about."
Now they're five games below .500 after losing to Miami. They were tied, 90-90, with less than three minutes to go and folded.
Bryant defended Dwyane Wade most of the game, continuing his trend of covering the opponent's best backcourt player. He has recently guarded Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Brandon Jennings, all in their early 20s. And all fast.
Bryant shot poorly against Miami (eight for 25), committed six turnovers and surrendered 27 points to Wade. He then said he needed help on offense (more picks, better rolls) so he didn't have to work as hard on that end of the court.
"He's one of the 10 greatest basketball players ever," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said of Bryant. "But to ask him to go out every night and guard the best perimeter player and score 30 points a night, he's going to have more nights like [Thursday]. At his age he can't do that anymore. They're putting him in a situation to have more downs than ups. He didn't have anything left in the tank."
Added analyst Kenny Smith: "You need someone else to dominate defensively so you can rest even though you think you're Superman."
Bryant, 34, won't rest any time soon. He'll continue to cover the top opposing guard for a while.
"How many more games do we have? 43? There you go," D'Antoni said. "Unless he dies before. He'll be like an old mule and you've got to shoot him."
Magic Johnson continued his back-and-forth on the Lakers.
On Thursday, he said on Twitter they would make the playoffs and "cause some problems for teams." He was less enthralled after they lost to Miami.
"I'm tired of seeing coach D'Antoni throw his hands up in disgust about the defense ... time to do something about it!" Johnson tweeted Friday.
He also hated the Lakers' turnover issues, led by Bryant and Nash (10 combined against Miami). Gasol and Clark each had three.
"All the Lakers players made terrible basketball decisions, turning the ball over 20 times last night," Johnson added.