The Los Angeles Lakers have some issues.
Some optimism returned this week after the Lakers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and put together a nice three-game winning streak.
Then Los Angeles started their crucial seven-game road trip with a loss to the Phoenix Suns—a poor way to start out away from Staples Center.
A bigger problem may be that Dwight Howard hurt his shoulder...again.
At this point, the Lakers cannot afford another injury. This roster is not built to withstand the loss of another starter.
According to J.A. Adande of ESPN and others, Howard needs surgery if this injury is going to heal properly.
Howard is trying to get through the season and stay productive. However, if the pain or the risk of long-term injury becomes too great, he may need to be shut down.
Los Angeles has not been a picture of health this season. Through 46 games, a number of players have missed significant time.
Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace have been the healthy warriors, as both starters have played in all 46 games. Unfortunately, those are the only two players on the roster that have played in every game.
How long can the mostly-durable Bryant go at 38.7 minutes per game before he misses time due to a nagging injury? Despite his tenacity, Kobe has only played in all 82 games four times during his 17-year career. Metta has only played 82 games once in 14 years.
Despite struggling with injury, Dwight Howard has started and played in 43 games. Whether he can continue to stay on the floor throughout the season is yet to be determined. But it is not looking good, as he his back issues could flare up at any time.
Most fans are well aware of the other players who have missed significant time.
Pau Gasol, despite his struggles, is still a key part of this team, but he has only played in 33 games. Steve Nash is mostly healthy now, but he has only played in 22 games. Steve Blake has only played in nine games this year.
Jordan Hill played in 29 games this season and was a key contributor off the bench, but he is now done for the season.
The Lakers have had a numbers of issues on the floor, including poor defense and a lack of offensive continuity. Issues with Pau Gasol and playing time have seemingly reached a boiling point (via ESPN). Gasol is upset and Mike D’Antoni is getting sick of talking about it.
Ironically, the solution to Gasol’s problem with coming off the bench may be an injury to Howard, but that won't help the Lakers at this point. It is reasonable to suggest that not many fans want to see Pau get back into the starting lineup because of an injury to D-12.
Since the beginning of the year, this team has been a collection of “if” and “when” statements.
If the Lakers can get everyone healthy...
When the Lakers get everyone back healthy...
If the Lakers can improve their defense...
When the Lakers start playing better together as a team...
The team is running out of time for the "ifs" and "whens" to come to fruition.
This road trip has started out badly. The Lakers needed a win and they needed their stars to stay healthy.
Instead, Los Angeles lost more than a game against the Suns.
That scene of Dwight Howard wincing in obvious discomfort may sum up this season for Los Angeles.
Kobe still believes. At least, that is what his Twitter posts indicate.
We r on track. Gave one away tonight, let it slip away from us but I like how we are playing as a team. It will all come together this way.— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 31, 2013
Developing an identity has been an ongoing challenge for this team and that will continue. However, development may not matter if the stars are forced to come to the games in street clothes.