There is much work to be done. That much is evident after the Los Angeles Lakers fell behind early Friday night in Memphis and couldn't climb out of the hole. As it was Wednesday in Sacramento, the defense was too porous, the mistakes too plentiful.
Now, heading into the second half of a back-to-back in Dallas on Saturday, the Lakers are now oh-for-the-road. Four tries, four losses on the road this season.
Here are four takeaways from Friday:
The frontline was outplayed.
Wednesday night in Sacramento, Pau Gasol played one of his worst games in a Lakers uniform, scoring only eight points on 3-of-8 shooting. He was a total non-factor on both ends of the court. Friday in Memphis, Gasol basically played the fifth and sixth quarters of the Kings' game in the first half. He was, in a word, awful. Awful offensively, where he finished the first 24 with only one field goal, and equally awful on the other end. Gasol struggled to contain Zach Randolph on the glass, and was slow in his rotations.
No surprise, D'Antoni cut his minutes substantially (27:21), giving an effective Antawn Jamison more burn. Gasol improved a little in the second half, but it would have been nearly impossible not to, and not nearly enough. Again, D'Antoni had him on the bench down the stretch. Even after Jamison fouled out, Gasol remained seated. Following the game, D'Antoni was asked why.
"I was thinking I'd like to win this game," he said.
Ouch, but he was right.
Unfortunately, Dwight Howard wasn't much more involved, particularly early. Coming off a game in which he took only four shots, he entered the second half with only five points on five shots. Moreover, he continued struggling just to hold on to the ball, stripped multiple times early on a night he'd turn the ball over five times. In the second half, Howard moved the ball well from the post, but overall wasn't an effective part of the attack.
The Lakers haven't been able to take advantage of Howard's mobility in the pick-and-roll. He spent huge swaths of time down on the block, waiting for plays to come his way. Generally, they didn't. With a useless Gasol up top, it meant for the second straight game the Lakers lacked production from two of their three stars in the game. Together, they combined for 13 points, this after scoring 15 points as a tandem in Sacramento. Howard seems like the easier problem to solve, though clearly the shots aren't there right now. Gasol, who looked so comfortable against Brooklyn in D'Antoni's sideline debut as a fulcrum in the Lakers' attack, has been a drag on his teammates since. Meanwhile, for perhaps the first time this season Kobe Bryant (7-of-23) seemed to shoot out of frustration and anger, as opposed to staying patient.
One major challenge for D'Antoni going forward will be figuring out how best to squeeze production from both of his big men. If he can't, the only alternative is to change the roster.
Too many turnovers.
In the first half, the Lakers gave the ball away 11 times, and time after time the Grizzlies made them pay. There were turnovers of carelessness, turnovers of confusion, turnovers off the dribble, thanks to Memphis' always active hands. Few teams put more ball pressure on a team than the Grizzlies, and the Lakers suffered for it Friday. In the second half, they were a little better but still were far too generous. Seven more, including a host of poorly timed offensive fouls. Against an opportunistic team like Memphis, 18 giveaways isn't going to work. Additionally, the Lakers weren't tight on the defensive glass, allowing too many opportunities for second-chance points. Memphis is playing as well, if not better, than any team in the NBA.
They don't need help, but the Lakers provided it anyway.
3-pointers and free throws were their friend.
In one third-quarter sequence, the Lakers ran the same play three times in a row. Move the ball weak to strong, dump to Howard in the post, wait for the double, kick to the shooter. Twice Jodie Meeks knocked down the open jumper, and Chris Duhon the third. It was generally par for the course on a night when the Lakers were very effective from downtown. Even better, they were 20-of-24 from the free-throw line, a massive change of pace over their early season work.
So that's the good news. The bad? The Lakers finished 12-of-27 (44.4 percent) on 3-pointers -- at one point they were 10-for-20 before forcing up some late-game triples -- and were great from the stripe. It simply wasn't enough to counterbalance the problems they had holding on to the ball or the total lack of production from the front court.
Jamison had his best game in Los Angeles.
Faint praise, no doubt, but still a big deal. D'Antoni made an adjustment many hoped he'd try, moving Jamison to power forward, putting him close to the bucket and making him something other than a spot-up shooter. He responded with 16 points on 7-of-11 from the field, plus seven boards and an assist.
Friday was actually a strong night for the bench, overall. They were on the court when the Lakers ate into a big post-first-quarter lead for the Grizzlies, and helped make another push in the second half. Duhon kicked in with a steady eight points and three assists, and Meeks had the aforementioned 3-pointers in the third and made a couple decent defensive plays as well.
Unfortunately, the lineup shift meant Jordan Hill played only four minutes. If D'Antoni continues to run Jamison at the 4 -- and Friday night certainly gave him reason to -- figuring out how to divvy minutes between Jamison, Hill and Pau will be tough.
Over the next 10 games or so, we'll learn a lot more about how the Lakers' roster fits together. Right now, there are plenty of questions.