The Los Angeles Lakers are stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of moving their team in one direction or another, and the fact that Steve Nash's return keeps getting pushed back is going to make it hard for them to do the right things to meet their potential.
Of course, it's going to take more than getting Nash back to get there in the long run.
As the Lakers continue to drag themselves along without Nash, who is looking at about another two weeks before he can return (or before it comes out that he's still a week away from returning) and without Steve Blake, who is going to need surgery for a torn abdominal muscle, things are getting tougher as the days go by.
First the win over the Nuggets.
This is still a high-powered offense, with or without Nash. They have Kobe Bryant who is obviously capable of running an offense and being either an explosive scorer or an efficient machine, along with Dwight Howard, who is still unstoppable in the post, and a surprisingly effective (at times) Antawn Jamison.
So long as the energy stays up, the three-pointers fall and the defense doesn't lapse too much, they can beat any team in the NBA.
All that happened against the Nuggets as the Lakers sank 17 three-pointers, out-rebounded a terrific rebounding team in the Nuggets, and held Denver to 46.5 percent from the field.
Fast-forward two days and you've got the Lakers inexplicable collapse against the Orlando Magic.
Los Angeles made only six of 17 three-pointers, pulled down just 46 rebounds to Orlando's 44, let Orlando shoot 50 percent from the floor, and gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter.
They spent the fourth quarter in a mixture of disappointment and ambiguity, leading to their ultimate collapse.
There's one thing that concerns me about the Lakers and one thing that makes me want to pump the breaks and give them at least until the end of January to judge them.
First the bad. This Lakers team is going to be better offensively once Nash comes back, there's no doubt about that. However, that hasn't been their problem in the first month of the season.
They're scoring over 100 points per game, making them the sixth-highest scoring offense in the NBA. Compare that to their defense, which gives up 97 points per game, good enough for 14th in the NBA.
Los Angeles has a distinct lack of youth, and with that a lack of energy at times, leading to these incredibly low-scoring games or collapses like the one we saw when they played the Magic.
To fix that, they're going to need to be stuck with a cattle prod, or perhaps given a nice swift kick in the behind, something that Kobe has suggested recently:
I’ll kick everybody’s ass in this locker room if it doesn’t happen. It’s the attitude you have to have. Metta (World Peace) is the same way. Dwight (Howard) has it in him as well. Even though he smiles a lot, he cares a lot about this. Come hell or high water, this has to get done.
Something keeping me from freaking out about this team, and that should keep the rest of the world from freaking out about them, is that their record isn't that bad compared to some other successful teams in the past.
The Lakers sit at 8-9 for the season, a record eerily similar to the 2011 Miami Heat, who started out 9-8 after being thrown together in the previous offseason.
It's not enough to just put superstars together on a court and say, "Go play basketball." The Lakers tried that in 2004 and the Heat tried it in 2011. Both teams made it to the Finals, but both fell short of their ultimate goal.
Given time, this team will evolve and become more of what we expected of them, but they need time to actually develop some chemistry.