LOS ANGELES -- It was another gut-check game for the Los Angeles Lakers -- against another opponent ahead of them in the Western Conference standings -- and all L.A. did was get punched in the gut again.
Talk of the Lakers' chemistry, or lack thereof, dominated the headlines since their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, but coach Mike D'Antoni tried to put it to bed before Sunday night’s tipoff against the Denver Nuggets.
"Everybody’s got a job to do," D'Antoni said. "The only thing we can ask these guys is play as hard as you can. Whether you’re happy or not, it doesn’t really matter. Play as hard as you can. You don’t have to love each other.”
“I’ve been on a lot of championship teams in Europe when there was edges and we didn’t go out to dinner together every night,” he said. “That is not why we’re losing. We’re losing right now because we don’t have a consistent 48 minutes of basketball."
The Lakers might have played harder on Sunday against the Nuggets, but things are still broken in La La Land ... and there doesn't appear to be an easy fix coming anytime soon.
How it happened: The Lakers gave up 34 points to the Nuggets and trailed by as many as nine early on before clawing back. Same script, different day, because L.A. expended so much energy just trying to make a game of it that they let their guard down and allowed Denver to push the lead back up to 10 in the fourth quarter.
L.A. made a last-ditch effort, with Bryant knocking down a 3 to cut the lead to three with 11.2 seconds remaining (his second tough corner 3 in as many possessions at that point); but as has been the case a lot lately with the Lakers, it was too little too late.
What it means: The Lakers have to go 35-14 the rest of the way to get to 50 wins, which is the number you want to hit just to make the playoffs in the West.
Denver coach George Karl selected the Lakers' Earl Clark to check in the game with 1:05 remaining in the fourth quarter after Gasol went out with a bloody nose and could not shoot his free throws. After not playing all game prior to that point, Clark stuck both freebies no problem like he was Sasha Vujacic in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against Boston.
Misses: The Lakers had 18 turnovers leading to 14 Denver points.
The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 60-38 in the paint and 25-14 on fast-break points.
Stat of the night: All five starters scored in double digits for the Lakers and L.A. assisted on 30 of 38 baskets, and it still didn't matter in the outcome.
Notes: Antawn Jamison played in the first quarter and promptly hit a long jumper, accounting for the first points he's scored for L.A. since Dec. 13. Chris Duhon returned to court action after missing the past two games because of back spasms.
What's next: The Lakers get a back-to-back in Houston and San Antonio on Tuesday and Wednesday against teams that are decidedly unafraid of the guys in purple and gold. They've now had four losses in their past five games. Include the Texas road trip and the home game against Oklahoma City when they get back from it, and losing seven of eight a real possibility.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.