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BEN BOLCH

Despite win over Utah, Lakers have a long way to go

The Lakers defeated the Jazz, 102-84, but have little to cheer about as they entered Friday four games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

January 25, 2013|Ben Bolch
  • Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash celebrate during the Lakers' 102-84 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash celebrate during the Lakers'… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Streamers fell from the rafters Friday night inside Staples Center, the Lakers having beaten the middling Utah Jazz to end a four-game losing streak.

Yippee.

No one should cheer anything short of a 10-game winning streak with this team, given the way things have gone in a one-step-forward, four-steps-back kind of season.

There won't be any celebrating three months from now unless radical changes are made involving this mishmash roster or a coach who can identify what's wrong but can't seem to fix it.

Neither seems likely.

Beleaguered Coach Mike D'Antoni is apparently here to stay after receiving a vote of confidence Thursday from Lakers executives Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak.

Gulp.

What's worse, trading Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol could actually be a net loss for a team that can't win with any regularity even with the underperforming big men.

Double gulp.

Yes, Howard has been a hobbled, smiling mess.

But lose him and risk going into the post-Kobe Bryant era without a franchise player who could be a force again by the end of this season.

Yes, Gasol has disappeared more often than Criss Angel.

But unload the Spaniard and expect to get cents on the euro, not to mention setting the Lakers up for the frightening possibility that they lose both of their top post players should Howard decide not to sign a maximum extension this summer.

The future seems bleak no matter who is in the picture.

The Lakers entered Friday four games out of the No. 8 seeding in the Western Conference, meaning that even a monumental surge over the next few months would result in a first-round series against Oklahoma City, San Antonio or — eek — the Clippers.

Talk about one and undone.

What is the best-case scenario in D'Antoni's mind?

"Make the playoffs and then win a championship," he said before the Lakers' 102-84 victory over the Jazz. "Other than that … "

D'Antoni shrugged as his voice trailed off, indicating he was halfway kidding. Unfortunately for him, turning this season around will require some serious tweaking.

"We're down, what, four games from eighth [place] and six from seventh and we've got [40 games] to go," D'Antoni said. "So, obviously, you run off 10 [consecutive victories] or so and you're in good shape."

The coach has done the math, but can he solve the problem? His insistence on playing fast and small with a roster that includes Howard and Gasol is like casting Nathan Lane and John Goodman in a swimsuit video. A system incapable of thriving in December and January will be shelved in May and June because, at this rate, the Lakers won't be playing.

For those who continue to tout the injury excuse, this stat says it all: The Lakers are 4-10 in games in which Bryant, Howard, Gasol and Steve Nash have all played. They are 14-15 in games in which one or more of them has sat out.

Neither winning percentage is going to get them a sniff of the postseason.

Howard was in an uncharacteristically serious mood before the game against Utah, tuning out reporters while he listened to music through earbuds at his locker.

The Lakers were in harmony for stretches, Bryant collecting more assists (14) than shots (10) and Howard and Gasol actually logging some quality minutes together to combat a Jazz lineup heavy on big men.

"We have to play together, we have to play for each other," said Howard, who finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. "That's the only way we're going to win."

They're going to have to hit the repeat button on their effort against the Jazz for that to happen.

"At this point, it's not about showing that we've turned the corner, it's about doing it," Bryant said. "We've got to put together a string of pretty good games."

If Friday was a start, the Lakers can only hope it's not on the road to nowhere.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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