After reeling off five straight wins, the Lakers have dropped two of their last three and now find themselves back below the .500 mark once again.
The Lakers' most recent loss to the 76ers was just more of what we saw from them earlier last month, when they lost six of seven from December 2 to December 13.
Kobe Bryant addressed one of the issues after the Philadelphia loss which is sure to remain a constant throughout the reason. He referred to the team as "old as s---," a fairly accurate statement (via ESPN).
The age issue affects the team more on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 25th in the league in points allowed.
As effective as he is offensively, Steve Nash is a defensive liability, while Pau Gasol's lack of explosiveness makes him vulnerable against athletic frontcourts. And though Metta World Peace can play physical on-ball defense, that doesn't change the fact that he's slow—really, really slow.
Because they lack foot-speed, the team is struggling to contain opposing point guards on the perimeter. In their loss to the Nuggets the day after Christmas, they allowed Ty Lawson to rack up a season-high 14 assists to go with 17 points. In their loss to Philadelphia Tuesday night, Jrue Holiday torched them for 26 points and 10 dimes.
Offensively, the Lakers are still trying to figure out how to play off each other while maintaining fluidity and balance.
Right now Kobe is taking 21.8 shots per game, over two more than his career average. It's tough to have that much balance when one player is dominating the possessions, which raises the question of whether or not his high-volume offense is negatively affecting the team, even if he's converting.
Still, it's not the offense that will be the long-term problem to worry about. It's the defense—the team's lack of youth and energy, along with a coach whose got an empty defensive first-aid kid and a manual that continuously proves ineffective.
Are the Lakers even a threat to win the Western Conference Championship?
The problem that I had originally when they put this team together was the window they were given. When you add guys like Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, you completely change the makeup and identity of the roster. It takes time to gel and build that on-court chemistry, and with Kobe at age 34, Nash at 38, Gasol at 32 with knee tendinitis, World Peace at 33 and Dwight off back surgery, time is not on their side.
L.A is approaching a pivotal stretch in their season that could put them in a deeper hole if things go awry. Next up they have the Clippers, followed by Denver, at Houston, at San Antonio and home against the Thunder.
Unless the Lakers can figure out a way to get younger or better defensively, their struggles could continue well into January.