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After rocky start, Lakers have more explanations than wins

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - The Trail Blazers' defense converges around Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant as he tries to go to the basket at the Rose Garden. The Blazers beat L.A. 116-106 on Wednesday in Portland's season opener. The Lakers fell to 0-2.After two ugly losses on consecutive nights to start the season — including Wednesday's 116-106 defeat by the Trail Blazers — the Los Angles Lakers' explanation for why they are out of sorts depends on who you ask.

Kobe Bryant says it's timing. Steve Nash says it's over-thinking the game. Coach Mike Brown says the issue has been effort.

For a team that seems as woven as a 3-year-old's shoelace, the loss in the Blazers' season opener proved that Los Angeles is still in the embryonic stages of development.

“You see flashes of us moving the ball well,” Brown said at the Rose Garden. “You see flashes of us cutting well. You see flashes of us passing well. Even defensively, at times we're doing the right thing.

“But we haven't put it together for 48 minutes, and I talked to the guys about that. We have to put it together for 48 minutes in order to be good in this league. Right now, we're not doing it, especially defensively.”

With new and vital pieces such as center Dwight Howard, who had 33 points and 13 boards, and Nash still trying to insert themselves into the mold of the team, confusion was frequent and expected against the Blazers.

Where that was most obvious? That's hard to say.

For a second time, the Lakers were a mess defensively, allowing the Blazers to well-exceed triple digits.

“We have to do a better job defensively in order to win on the road,” Brown said.

The Lakers gave up 26 points to Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, who made the backdoor cut a frequent part of his repertoire.

Los Angeles allowed center J.J. Hickson to get a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

L.A. watched rookie guard Damian Lillard pick them apart en route to 23 points and 11 assists in his NBA debut.

And the Lakers surrendered four 3-pointers to guard Wesley Matthews, who finished with 22 points and four steals.

“I think we're a step late to rotations, and are taking things for granted a little,” said Nash, who left the game shortly after halftime with a left-leg contusion. “We're just not sharp. We're not early on any of our rotations. We're not necessarily proactive. We're reacting, and it's getting us in trouble.”

But the Lakers' problems were not entirely self-inflicted wounds. The Blazers approached Wednesday with a strategy. They refused to play at the temp of the Lakers' new, ball-movement Princeton offense. They wanted to get out and run the floor — and they did.

Portland outscored Los Angles 19-6 on fast-break points, and the Lakers only mustered two transition points in the second half.

For the Lakers, it was a familiar issue that also arose Tuesday night, when the Lakers lost 99-91 to the Dallas Mavericks.

“We're not the quickest team in the world,” said Bryant, who had 30 points on Wednesday. “A lot of teams now have very, very quick guards and quick wings, and we just have to work on supporting each other and being there for each other, keeping the ball out of the paint and keeping guys away from the rim.”

Offensively, Brown addressed his team's 106 points, 50-percent shooting from the field and 21 assists like this: “That should be enough for us anywhere to win a ballgame.”

But 24 turnovers helped explain why Los Angles didn't, although Bryant, never one to panic, said he didn't believe that was a sign of some egregious issue.

“Many of them weren't bad turnovers,” he said. “It was really just things that were a little off.”

The Lakers had problems on both sides of the ball, and there wasn't one right answer inside the locker room.

Even though the team consists of key new parts still gelling in a new offensive system, Brown said he doesn't believe the issue is schematics.

“It's about effort,” he said.

Nash, though, explained it a different way.

“I think the guys are trying,” he said. “I think that maybe we just didn't live up to what our expectations were. Maybe we're thinking too much, or maybe we weren't switched on enough.”

Or maybe, right now, it's all of the above.

Notes

Nash was hurt in a collision with Lillard right before halftime. Nash was back on the floor to start the second half, but was pulled shortly thereafter. He went to the locker room and didn't return. Brown said he'd be evaluated on Thursday.

"I got kicked in the lower leg and got a nasty little contusion," Nash said. "I couldn't push off and decelerate laterally. I thought I'd be OK, but after getting treatment I just ran out there and I didn't do any kind of lateral movements, so right away it kind of flared up when I moved laterally."