On the heels of a three-game winning streak, the Los Angeles Lakers failed to show up against the Phoenix Suns. Matched up against a team they should have defeated, L.A. lost a 92-86 heart-breaker in which they blew a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
As a result, one thing became perfectly clear—L.A.'s lack of urgency will be the final blow to their playoff dreams.
With their loss to Phoenix, the Lakers dropped their eighth consecutive road game. The Lakers are now 5-16 on the road for the season.
Perhaps most important of all, L.A. is 20-26 and a full four games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff structure.
To make matters worse, All-Star center Dwight Howard re-aggravated a torn labrum in his right shoulder (via The Los Angeles Times). Howard is listed as day-to-day, but the threat for a long-term impact is alive and present.
We couldn't write this ourselves, folks: The Lakers' dream team is falling to pieces.
Perhaps most troubling of all, the Lakers have displayed no sense of urgency. Not only is this a primary reason they're on the outside looking in on the postseason, but it is also a reason for another unfortunate truth.
Until their current ways change, L.A. will continue to flirt with postseason irrelevancy.
Improving One, Losing the Other
During the Los Angeles Lakers' first eight January games, they were 2-6. They averaged 105.1 points scored and 106.5 points allowed per game.
Over the span of their past eight games, L.A. is 3-5 with averages of 96.6 points scored and 98.3 points allowed per game.
In other words, the Lakers have improved their scoring defense by an average of 8.2 points per game. They're also performing worse on offense by averaging 8.5 points less per game.
Just as it seems as if the Lakers are improving, they lose sight of the need to play two-way basketball.
No one in their right mind will deny that the Lakers have the talent to dominate opponents on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately, upside is meaningless if the wins aren't there as a complement.
With time running out, they aren't.
Destined for a Tough Task
The Los Angeles Lakers are currently on pace to to contend for the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference. They're currently four games behind behind the eighth-ranked Houston Rockets and trailing the seventh-seed Utah Jazz by five games.
The Thunder are 19-3 at home during the 2012-13 NBA regular season. The Spurs, meanwhile, are 21-2 at home.
In a seven-game series, the Lakers would play four of those games against OKC or San Antonio.
The alternative for L.A. appears to be facing the rival Los Angeles Clippers. For those who favor that option, the Lakers are 0-2 against the Clippers in 2012-13 and would struggle to defend their up-tempo offense.
For what it's worth, the Lakers have also lost road games against OKC and San Antonio in 2012-13.
Perhaps worst of all, the Lakers were eliminated by the Thunder during the 2011-12 NBA postseason. Although the roster is revamped, a 4-1 series loss is not so easily fixed by the addition of aging legs and a lack of chemistry.
This is shaping up to be a lost season in Los Angeles.
Long Road to the Postseason
The Los Angeles Lakers are 20-26 overall. They're also 15-10 in home games, which means they've played 25 of 46 games at the Staples Center.
As a result, 20 of the Lakers' final 36 games will be played on the road.
For those who wonder why this is an issue, the Lakers are just 5-16 away from home. That includes eight consecutive road losses and an 0-7 record as the away team in January.
The season can be kept alive or lost over the next two weeks.
With a lack of urgency, the Lakers will not survive this massive road journey known as the "Grammy Trip." Unless they suddenly develop such a mentality overnight, that does not appears to be something that will change.
The season is on the line. Will the Lakers realize it?