Lakers come to Philadelphia as an under-.500 mess

Lakers Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks (20), and coach Mike D'Antoni during a break in the action Thursday vs. the Knicks. L.A. is 5-9 since D'Antoni was hired last month to replace the fired Mike Brown. KATHY WILLENS / AP
Lakers Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks (20), and coach Mike D'Antoni during a break in the action Thursday vs. the Knicks. L.A. is 5-9 since D'Antoni was hired last month to replace the fired Mike Brown. KATHY WILLENS / AP
Posted: December 16, 2012

WASHINGTON - Has it come to this?

After Friday night's 102-96 win over the woebegone Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center, Kobe Bryant couldn't contain his excitement.

"I actually am happy to win one damn game," the Los Angeles Lakers superstar said, laughing.

And he wasn't kidding.

That win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Lakers, who take a 10-14 record into the Wells Fargo Center to face the 76ers at 6 p.m. Sunday.

A team that won back-to-back NBA titles as recently as 2009 and 2010 was happy for a win over a Wizards team that has played all year without injured guard John Wall and fell to 3-17 heading into Saturday's game at Miami.

That shows the fortunes of the Lakers, who, despite their struggles, continue to be one of the most popular teams in professional sports.

Even the bigwigs want to be associated with Bryant and the Lakers. After Thursday night's 116-107 loss at Madison Square Garden to the New York Knicks, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson was in the Lakers' locker room, doing his best to boost their spirits in what was a losing battle.

After Friday's win, attorney general Eric Holder paid a visit to the Bryant and his teammates.

The Lakers have played to 99 percent capacity on the road, the best in the NBA. Friday's game drew 20,308, the Wizards' second sellout of the season.

This remains a glamour team with one exception: the product on the court. And where would the Lakers be without Bryant's playing at a ridiculous level, even by his standards?

The 34-year-old Lower Merion product said after Friday's game that he has a stiff back, but he had just played a total of almost 88 minutes on consecutive nights.

"I am not tired," he said.

Except when it comes to losing.

This season he is averaging 29.3 points and 38.1 minutes.

The Lakers fired coach Mike Brown after five games and hired Mike D'Antoni in an attempt to revive the old Showtime days, and instead the Lakers have been a defensive disaster. The Lakers are 5-9 under D'Antoni and have allowed 103 or more points in nine of the games.

It hasn't helped that point guard Steve Nash suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left leg in the second game of the season. There is no exact date for his return, although Nash said he hopes to begin practicing this week.

Forward-center Pau Gasol, a four-time all-star, has missed the last seven games with tendinitis in both knees and before that was criticized for his inconsistent play.

Guard Steve Blake is out after abdominal surgery.

Even center Dwight Howard, a six-time NBA all-star, is admittedly not his usual self after back surgery. Still, Howard is averaging 18.2 points and 12 rebounds.

"I am not 100 percent," Howard said. "It's going to be a while until I get there, and I will continue to play as hard as I can to contribute and help this team out."

He is still getting used to not being the first option on offense. When asked how he could become more comfortable, Howard simply answered: "Give me the ball."

Just don't do it at the foul line. Howard's free-throw shooting percentage is 49.2.

Bryant is a much straighter shooter than Howard, literally and figuratively, and he didn't mince words when discussing what ails the Lakers after Thursday's loss to the Knicks.

"It's a team that really doesn't have any stability and no sense of purpose in what we want to do," he said.

Bryant has vowed to provide even more ballhandling and direction on offense, but for this team to turn it around, others are going to have to pick up the slack. In Friday's win, former Sixer Jodie Meeks came off the bench to score 24 points.

Since he took over, D'Antoni has called out his team's lack of effort on a few occasions. And the thought of the Lakers simply outscoring teams is an outdated idea.

"We can't win games now with just offense," D'Antoni said.

Many of the Lakers' hopes lie in the return of Nash, who is traveling with the team.

"It has been difficult, and I hope I can help when I get back," Nash said.

Even with Nash's all-star pedigree, it's a lot to put on somebody who turns 39 in February.

If the playoffs were to begin today, the Lakers wouldn't qualify for them. It's going to take more than a win over the Wizards to convince skeptics that this team is capable of making a turnaround.

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