Wizards big man Nene smacks Lakers forward Pau Gasol across the face during… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
With Pau Gasol back in the lineup, the Lakers are taller, slower and more vulnerable.
Gasol, who was out for over six weeks with a foot injury, is still working his way back into shape, but some of the initial problems that plagued the Lakers persist. Coach Mike D'Antoni benched Gasol for Earl Clark to give the Lakers a more athletic starting lineup.
The change in continuity has contributed to a three-game losing streak.
Integrating Gasol properly with center Dwight Howard is the goal over the final stretch but it may also be what derails the Lakers' playoff hopes.
"Mike’s early reviews of Gasol were skeptical, to say the least, but he continues to start him … possibly at the suggestion of management, to see what they have before thinking about trading Pau," writes former Times columnist Mark Heisler for LakersNation.com
"Unfortunately, as presently configured, the Lakers don’t control the tempo like a [Phil] Jackson team," continued Heisler. "Nor do they put up 110 a night and let opponents see if they can beat that, like a D’Antoni team."
The Lakers fired Mike Brown because he couldn't get the parts to fit together quickly. Injuries have made D'Antoni's job nearly impossible.
If D'Antoni can finally figure out the Gasol puzzle, the Lakers may still be a postseason sleeper — but after playing some of their best basketball, the team has hit a costly roadblock.
At 36-35, the Lakers have 11 games to hold onto eighth place in the West. At the rate they're dropping games, the postseason is once again in jeopardy.
Lakers: Week 22 predictions
Lakers' Dwight Howard working on outside shot
Lakers continue to slide with 109-103 loss to Warriors
Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.