Can Lakers maintain focus?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Lakers might want to look into fitting straitjackets for everyone on their team, from the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Dwight Howard to the 6-foot-3, 172-pound Steve Blake. Because if the definition of insanity truly is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time, then the whole purple-and-gold brigade should be heading to the loony bin.

They played with fire again Friday night, falling down by 20 points on the road to the Charlotte Bobcats, who were 11-37 coming into the night, before rallying with a 31-15 fourth quarter to win 100-93.

If it sounds like the same old song and dance, it should. Back on Dec. 18, the Lakers trailed the Bobcats by 18 in the third quarter at home and needed a late 28-4 run to barely hold on for the 101-100 victory.

"Just irritated," Kobe Bryant said after scoring all 20 of his points in the second half following a rare scoreless half for him to start the game. "Very irritated. That's all."

The reason for Bryant's irritation was the same set of issues that led to that air-it-out team meeting in Memphis late last month, much like the repeat letdown performance against the league-worst Bobcats.

For six of the past eight quarters the Lakers played -- the full blowout loss to Boston and the miserable first half against the moribund Bobcats -- the Lakers looked nothing like the team that had won six out of seven games following that Memphis meeting.

"I think everybody wants to do well, everybody wants to play well. Individually, [we] want to try to do the right thing, but sometimes what you want to do as an individual conflicts with what we want to do as a group," Bryant said. "You just got to let that go, just let it go and just play. You take criticisms; if we lose the game, then everybody points the finger at me for not shooting the ball, and that's fine. As long as I'm confident that I make the right play to help us as a team, that's the most important thing, and I think we all need to follow that example and play for each other."

Bryant took just two shots in the first half, missing both, but chipped in where he could elsewhere with five rebounds and two assists.

Howard, who said after that Memphis meeting that he would not focus on his individual stats and rather commit to dominating on defense, strayed from that promise in Boston. Not only did he fail to dominate -- whether because of trepidation from playing with his bum shoulder or just because of foul trouble -- he also blamed the Lakers' effort on poor ball movement, which was his same refrain earlier in the season when he was really saying he wanted more touches.

Friday was an improvement. Not just in the stat sheet, with Howard snagging 11 rebounds and three blocks even though he scored only 12 points on seven shots, but also in his answers after the game, when he said he's not going to use his shoulder as an excuse and will be team-centered.

"With a lot of stuff going on around me that I can't control, my biggest thing is keeping my faith up, not losing faith in my team and just staying focused," Howard said. "It's tough to deal with, but I'm going to overcome it."

It echoed the message that coach Mike D'Antoni told the media outside the locker room just minutes before.

"We just got to be able to either put earplugs in or mufflers on or blinders on -- like Kentucky Derby horses, just get those blinders on -- and play," D'Antoni said. "We got so much stuff going on out here that every little thing is blown big. Whether it's right or wrong [that it's] blown out of proportion, it is and it affects us. It's a distraction that saps energy. We got to be able to close that out somehow."

Bryant dismissed the team's troubles over the past two games as simply a "brain fart" and maintained that they have found something that works and can latch onto.

"We can't play five different styles," said Steve Nash, who has acquiesced some ballhandling duties and assumed more shooting responsibilities in the changeover. "We can't play my style, Kobe's style, [Metta World Peace's] style, Dwight's style, [Pau Gasol's] style. We have to find a way to work together. I think that's the key. Everyone has got to try to make this transition and give to the team what they can and not worry about what they're not giving."

D'Antoni wishes the scare in Charlotte teaches the Lakers a lesson they won't forget.

"Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call," D'Antoni said. "Again. For the 80th time."

And maybe, just maybe, there is some sanity in store for the 24-27 Lakers over a final push in which they actually make the playoffs. Because any person who predicted this mess before the season started for the team with the $100 million payroll would have been considered crazy.

In fact, Howard never sounded more with it than when he was asked about the Lakers' upcoming test against the Miami Heat and the trials and tribulations that LeBron James has gone through.

"You're going to have ups and downs in the NBA," Howard said. "That's life, but people forget about all the negative stuff when you win. That's the only thing that cures everything else is winning."

If the Lakers stay committed to doing the right things to keep winning, there will be no notion about them needing to be committed again.