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Lakers left feeling a tad short

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The prevailing wisdom, the hope anyway, is that all will be well with the Los Angeles Lakers when Steve Nash returns from a fractured left fibula.

Mike D'Antoni's offense will go as Nash goes. Its mysteries will be unlocked, its potential with this star-studded roster will become obvious and overwhelming.

Those are nice thoughts. Comforting thoughts after two buzz-killing road losses that dropped the Lakers' record to 6-7. And they may well become reality. Maybe Nash is all the Lakers need.

But right now the Lakers' problem is pretty simple and it seems to have little to do with Nash or his lingering leg injury: The Lakers have the league's most dominant center (Dwight Howard) and most skilled big man (Pau Gasol), yet neither of them seems comfortable with the new world order.

"Once we get going in the post, we'll be good," Howard said.

In the past two games, Howard and Gasol have combined to score just 28 points on 10-for-27 shooting. Gasol has been reduced mostly to a 15-foot jump-shooter, and Howard has been swarmed every time he catches the ball with his back to the basket and been forced to pass it back out to the perimeter.

"I'm not a pure jump-shooter," Gasol said. "I can stretch the defense out and make a couple jumpers. But how I get going is by getting in the paint and creating off the post. That's historically how I've been really successful and made a really good name for myself and earned my contracts. Hopefully I'll find a way and we'll find a way to get me a few opportunities there and get myself going in that way and be more effective."

Nash will obviously help both get more looks closer to the basket as they roll off screens. He'll help the rhythm and the flow of the offense, he'll open things up in ways we can't imagine yet.

"Steve's a great point guard," Gasol said. "He will facilitate things for the rest of the guys, and pick and choose where to put the ball. I think he'll give us better balance when we're out there."

But the longer the Lakers' big men look small like this, the more it reminds you that neither D'Antoni nor Nash have ever played with such a talented frontcourt.

His system has historically benefited forwards who can stretch the defense or athletic bigs, such as Amare Stoudemire, who can roll to the basket and finish like small forwards.

That doesn't mean D'Antoni's system can't work with the likes of Gasol and Howard. It just never has been tested this way this before.

To be fair, until Nash comes back we should reserve judgement on whether it will work. But right now, and for as long as Nash remains sidelined, the Lakers' biggest strength has turned into a weakness. Sacramento, of all teams, outscored the Lakers in the paint 50-22. Memphis outscored them 40-24.

"We've got to learn how to work together as a team," Howard said. "That's the only way we're going to win."

Right now, the Lakers aren't. The chemistry is fine. So is the locker room. Nobody has soured on D'Antoni. Not even close.

But this roster is too talented to struggle for too long.

Which is why Bryant flat out encouraged Gasol to speak out if he felt as if he wasn't getting enough touches in the post.

"[D'Antoni has] been really open, really flexible with guys," Bryant said. "He's like, if we're doing a little too much, if you feel like you're not getting enough touches in the post, things like that, just bring it up. Let me know, and we'll make our adjustments.

"It has to be like this. This isn't going to be a team where you sit here and feel like you're not getting the most out of yourself, where we're not getting the most out of you. Where you say something about it and we just ignore it. That's not what teammates are for. If [Gasol] feels like he needs to get more involved on the block, we'll make that adjustment."

The sooner they do, the bigger they'll seem again.