For the Los Angeles Lakers faithful that has yet to clasp both hands together and whale on that proverbial panic button, it's officially time to do so.
Los Angeles should have pounded on the panic button a long time ago when the going became overwhelmingly laborious. Now that the going has become unbearable, the Lakers are going to need to wallop that same button once again to make sure it's not broken.
Because this team is lost. It spent more than a quarter of the season toeing the lines of ineptitude and has now reached the point where it's staring down the barrel of irreparable damage.
At four games under .500, the Lakers find themselves not only outside the Western Conference's playoff bubble, but nowhere near it. They're four games back of the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets and currently boast the West's fifth-worst record.
If Los Angeles had known that's what $100 million in payroll was going to buy it, the team may have opted to save some money and give Kwame Brown and Smush Parker a call over the summer.
OK, I'm kidding.
Except I'm not. Not entirely.
After the Lakers' latest defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets, those who remain deluded and continue to cling to the notion that this team will be fine will try and argue just that. This is a team that is now without Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, after all. Once they're back, everything will change.
To that, however, I feel compelled to ask: Doesn't this sound familiar?
Just a month ago, both Steve Nash and Gasol were riding the pine with injury. Upon their return, Gasol would be a stretch forward reborn and Nash was going to lead the Lakers toward greatness.
But look how that's panned out.
Nash has upped his per game averages to 10.9 points and 8.9 assists, but prior to suffering a concussion, Gasol's career-lows of 12.2 points on 41.6 percent shooting per game held true.
More importantly, the Lakers followed up their recent five-game winning streak by losing five of their last six contests, including the past four.
Simply put, it's time to stop making excuses.
This notion of Nash saving the team is outdated. And the belief that Gasol's decline is what has crippled the Lakers is even worse.
In their first game without Gasol and Howard in the lineup, the Lakers still managed to score 112 points, a total that comes on the heels of Kobe Bryant and Nash combining for just 36.
Gasol or no Gasol, Howard or no Howard, Los Angeles can score, and do so in excess.
What it can't do is defend.
At present, the Lakers are allowing opponents to score 107 points per 100 possessions, the ninth-worst mark in the NBA. They're also relinquishing 43.2 points in the paint a night as well, the fifth-most of any team in the league.
Can we put the latter on Gasol and his pitiful showing?
Actually no, we can't.
With Gasol on the floor, the Lakers are giving up just 105.3 points per 100 possessions, a mark that falls well below their season average. Once he sits down that number rises by five points to 110.3. And when he's on the floor (per 82games.com), Gasol holds opposing big men to an average PER of 13.2 per 48 minutes.
If the Lakers weren't scoring we could look to Gasol's deficient off-ball movements, flat jump shot and hesitancy at the rim as the driving force behind Los Angeles' current anguish.
But they are scoring, and he's defending—effectively. So his apparent "demise" cannot be used as the lone justification behind the Lakers' dissolution.
And that's discomposing; the Lakers as an aggregation are unhinging.
Even Nash, the embodiment of serenity (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com), is inclined to endorse the flogging of the panic button:
"I think three or four weeks ago people would have said, 'Ah, it will get better,'" Nash said. "Now I definitely don't think there's a guarantee it will, so the only remedy is continue to work hard and give yourself a chance for it to get better. I obviously think with time, and that might mean through the summer, we can get better. But for this season, it's definitely going to be a challenge to turn this around."
Here we have one of the most optimistic and genuine players acknowledging that Los Angeles' convocation might not gain traction "through the summer."
Los Angeles' postseason hopes, along with their collective morale is waning.
Pummeling that panic button yet?
We must admire what the Lakers have managed to do offensively. In the face of an inept Gasol and physically restricted Howard, the team is seventh in points scored (108.7) per 100 possessions. Bryant's 30.2 lead the league, his 47.7 percent field-goal clip is a career-high and Nash's 8.9 dimes rank third in the Association.
Yet while we must applaud what Kobe, Nash and even Metta World Peace (13.6 points per game) have been able to do on offense, everything else about this team is vexing.
Despite Howard (per Synergy Sports) allowing just 0.63 points per possession overall as a defender (fourth-best mark in the league), the Lakers' defense improves by just 1.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Though Los Angeles houses one of the most potent offensive attacks in the league, it still has four players over the age of 32 averaging more than 30 minutes a game.
This is all troubling; it's chaotically confusing. I mean, just look at what the Lakers have had to go through (via McMenamin) in just a few short days:
Consider what happened in the Past three days for this team:
They went 0-2, allowing 237 combined points in the two games.
Three of their big men, who average more than 35 points and 25 rebounds per game between them, were all injured.
A report about Howard and Kobe Bryant nearly coming to blows surfaced. Bryant responded to it by staging a photo of the two fighting to mock the story, then later in the day in a serious, honest tone, tweeted that he respected how Alabama's quarterback A.J. McCarron and center Barrett Jones confronted each other to win.
In Tuesday's loss, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni openly bickered with Antawn Jamison on the sideline as the once-benched player said it was, "Nothing to really talk about. … It's one of those things that happened."
To put the Los Angeles' current state into an ever more transparent perspective, bear in mind that the Lakers are the only sub-.500 team that has actually outscored their opponents this season.
Of course we are. And we should be. We should also be slugging away on the panic button until our fists turn purple and gold with ceremonious bruises.
When it comes to the Lakers, there's no concrete blueprint to ensure a turnaround. This squad is deficient in so many areas that their problems cannot be pinpointed to the point of resolution.
Is it officially time for the Lakers to slam the panic button?
How is it that Los Angeles has one of the league's best defenders in Howard, but pauper-like rotations? How is that Kobe and Nash are carving up opposing defenses, but the Lakers find themselves out of the playoffs? How does Los Angeles expect to contend when its supporting cast is nonexistent?
How is it that the Lakers are actually outgunning their opponents, but still losing?
These aren't questions that can be answered overnight. Nash himself admitted as much.
What he—and thus far, everyone else—has been unable to divulge is when exactly Los Angeles is going to hit its stride.
Because this is no longer a case of when the Lakers are going to start winning.
It's now a frenzy-fueled matter of if.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 8, 2013.