Kobe Fuming, Tough Games Looming: Do Mounting Losses Mean Laker Trouble Brewing?

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Kobe Fuming, Tough Games Looming: Do Mounting Losses Mean Laker Trouble Brewing?
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant reportedly taunted LeBron James with "I'm a champion" remark during Christmas day game.

Going to keep it real here: Give a real fans opinion and not pull punches.

The Lakers historically haven't always showed up ready to play on Christmas, so I'm not going to focus on the Christmas day game.

They've lost ugly on Christmas before and have won rings that same season.

The Lakers are a championship-level caliber team, so they deserve the benefit of the doubt and give them credit for being able to bring themselves out of ruts. Especially being that they are a Phil Jackson coached team.

However, at no point since Pau Gasol arrived in L.A., the Lakers have gone through so many stretches of poor-play now than they've displayed so far in the first 30 games this season.

Rather than isolated issues and tailspins, this has been more a case of lingering malaise.

So, although the sky is not falling, this is getting disturbing—not only for fans, but for the team as well.

Head coach Jackson has uncharacteristically come out and asked Laker fans to "just be patient with us."

He continued to say: "at this point in the season, with the record that we have, we have to live with what we have. We have a record that's adequate for this point in the year. We're not pleased, obviously, to have nine losses…but we are what we are right now."

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Lakers head coach Phil Jackson tells fans to "just be patient with us"

Kobe Bryant also reportedly taunted LeBron James during the game, dropping an "I'm a champion" remark on him as his team was going down in defeat. Kobe is a notorious trash-talker; however, one has got to look at this taunt as pulling at straws—as well as being something that might motivate James on down the line.

Kobe never forgot the taunts thrown his way from Shaquille O'Neal, it is doubtful that LeBron will forget this particular one.

One only had to see the scowl on Kobe's face during his Christmas day postgame press conference to know what Kobe thought about his team's performance. However, this has been a look from Kobe that NBA fans have surprisingly seen too often from him this early on.

If one looks at the season thus far, only two players have consistently looked themselves: Kobe and Lamar Odom (in his inimitable, low-key way).

Derek Fisher has always come through when it counts. He could also be relied upon to be a quiet, effective floor leader and great distributor within Jackson's triangle offense. However, it seems those 36-year-old legs are clearly starting to slow down. The normally-susceptible-to-speedy-guards Laker defense has become a virtual parade to the rim for opposing players at times.

Gasol is as multi-faceted and talented a big man as there is; many also consider him to be the finest frontcourt player in the game today. However, too often Gasol doesn't bring it. His overall effect upon the Laker offense has diminished, perhaps as a result of being overlooked within the offense; Gasol's demeanor is such that he doesn't demand his touches, as say Shaquille O'Neal would in his younger days.

Ron Artest is in a clear slump, no doubt about it. Against quality teams, his lack of production cannot be made up in other places and his sluggish offensive play is hurting the team at times. He still brings it on defense, but that does not offset the liability he brings to the court in many games.

Overall, the Laker bench has been strengthened this year over last by the "Killer-B's" consisting of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown (and even Andrew Bynum for the past few games after returning from injury).

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
Kobe seeks better play from his Laker teammates.

Overall, the bench has contributed and helped, however collectively their production has come down as the season has progressed.

One of the most telling stats for the bench has been the difference in their production in wins vs. losses, the bench averages 32.5 points per game in wins, only 21.1 ppg in Laker losses. It is clear that the Lakers go as the bench does.

Now comes the problem for the Lakers. The team has played its trump card—Sasha Vujacic's expiring contract. Well, that is, they basically discarded it as all they did was dump salary.

Such names as OJ Mayo, Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, JR Smith, Chauncey Billups, Marco Belinelli, Marcus Thornton, Gerald Wallace and Andres Nocioni amongst other players have been circulating about possibly looking to be moved this year.

None of those players would have been championship-hinging additions for a team as deep as the Lakers; however, they could each have played a role off the bench as well as revitalizing things a bit around the team.

So, being that the Lakers made their move, any next move would have to involve a rotation player in order to bring a name in that could help (as it is doubtful teams will be after Devin Ebanks/Theo Ratliff/Luke Walton/Joe Smith/Derrick Caracter—outside of trade-filler, no offense to those guys).

The Lakers will have to right the ship on their own, as a team that has gone to three-straight NBA Finals has earned time during the early season to work things out. I would suspect barring major injury that the Lakers would have to suffer something of the magnitude of 10-consecutive losses to perk Mitch Kupchak's ears.

A clearly frustrated Kobe gets ejected from game vs Bucks on 12/21/2010

From here, the road gets harder for L.A. as 24 out of their first 30 games have been against sub .500 teams. Their schedule is back-loaded with tough teams. The Lakers have four games each remaining against the Spurs and Hornets, three games against the Mavericks, Jazz, Thunder, two games against the Celtics, Magic, Hawks and Suns as well as the rematch-game versus the Heat in Miami.

Immediately ahead looms the San Antonio Spurs, a game that will be their most important one yet of the young season. It is likely that the Lakers will have to go through the rejuvenated Spurs if they want to get to their fourth-straight Finals appearance.

After consecutive ugly losses, along with the many early season dispirited efforts, the Lakers are going to need to raise their level of play up a full notch or more.

It seems that their cruise-control has them going under the speed-limit, they gotta pick things up in order to keep up. Home court-advantage is starting to look like a race the Lakers don't look like they are competing in, whether or not it is a goal of Jackson or not.

The Lakers simply have not displayed the championship drive and passion thus far that they have played with the past several years. Kobe is a truly great leader, but at some point it is up to his troops to step-up their games and contribute more in order to turn things around.

Their 21-9 record does not reflect their struggles, Kobe's postgame frustration after the Christmas day loss is as much a reflection of continued inconsistencies as much as anger about that days game.

The sky hasn't fallen, but unless the Lakers start playing better their record within the overall NBA standings definitely will. If anything, Lakers inconsistent play have given hope to many teams that they are not only mortal, but beatable as well.

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