New drama, same problems for slow-learning Lakers

HOUSTON -- Your drama-a-day Los Angeles Lakers were back at it Tuesday. During the afternoon they digested the latest team-altering news to occur in their haphazard season -- Pau Gasol deciding to sit out indefinitely to rest his knees -- before belching out an all-too-familiar clunker of a game that night.

Gasol's absence wasn't what derailed them, just like Monday's drama -- Steve Blake scheduling abdominal surgery that will sideline him for six to eight weeks -- was sidestepped without any major setbacks.

Antawn Jamison started in place of Gasol, and put up 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, nine rebounds and three blocks -- all better numbers than Gasol averages. Chris Duhon got the start with Blake and Steve Nash out, and had a serviceable six points, seven assists and five rebounds of his own.

The story of the Lakers' 107-105 loss to the Houston Rockets on Tuesday was the same one the team has been reliving all season.

Just what are these déjà vu deficiencies that keep coming up for the Lakers?

Start with the turnovers. The Lakers coughed up the ball 19 times, leading to 17 points for the Rockets. L.A. went into the game averaging 16.7 turnovers per game, tied for worst in the league, so it's not like the team hasn't been cognizant of that problem area.

"You turn the ball over, and the other team gets an opportunity to score," Dwight Howard said. "I think they shot 100 and something shots tonight. That’s a lot."

Houston took 101 shots, to be exact. The Lakers took 82. Eighty-two plus 19 equals? Anybody?

Howard had a team-high four turnovers, so he contributed greatly to that repeat offense. But he also was suspect on the free throw line, yet again. A game after going 9-for-21 on free throws in a loss to Orlando in which the Magic went to a Hack-a-Howard strategy, he was just 8-for-16 against the Rockets as the rhythm of the Lakers' offense came to a halt in the final three minutes with each empty parade to the stripe by Howard.

"We have to really lock down solidly defensively, because if we get stops, they are not going to really be able to foul him," said Duhon, who admitted he's "been through this before" as Howard's teammate, with "this" being opponents frequently fouling Howard on purpose. "But if we foul them, put them on the free throw line, or if they score a bucket, then they’re able to set up their defense and foul him."

Not only will defense help combat bush-league tactics by opponents who want to park Howard on the free throw line late in game, but it will help protect late leads. The Lakers led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter Tuesday before seeing it all disappear, as the Rockets had their biggest quarter of the game with 34 points. In the Orlando loss, it was 40 fourth-quarter Magic points that did L.A. in.

"We had so many breakdowns defensively," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We can’t do that. We took some plays off. It’s a little bit of, ‘Oh my gosh, our record is what it is,’ where we can’t make a mistake."

Kobe Bryant is not afraid to make a mistake, certainly. He's shown time and time again that if he senses his teammates aren't up to the task on a particular night, he'll step into the void and try to shoulder the slack. He tallied 39 points to lead all scorers, shooting a decent 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) from the field, but in doing so, he took the same amount of shots as all four other starters did combined.

The Lakers fell to 1-7 this season when Bryant scores 30 points or more.

"We need to share the ball again," Howard said after the game, making a not-so-vague reference to Bryant's disproportional shot total.

Bryant might have had a little extra cooking other than just going for a win. After shootaround Tuesday morning, I mentioned to him that he was just 52 points from 30,000 for his career and he hadn't had a 50-point game since his 61 against D'Antoni's New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden in February 2009.

"Really? It's been three years since I got 50?" Bryant said. "OK. I'll get it tonight."

Well, after Bryant's 39 against Houston, the 50-less streak continues. That 61 against the Knicks was 266 games ago (in terms of games Bryant has played) and 1,401 days ago (or three years and 306 days ago -- closer to four years, actually).

Bryant setting a goal certainly isn't a problem, and don't forget that James Harden, the NBA's second-leading scorer behind Bryant, went just 3-for-19 in the game. But the heavy-volume game by one scorer isn't what D'Antoni's system has ever really been about.

And problems picking up D'Antoni's system is the header under which all the other recurring problems reside, if you really think about it.

"I really believe that we’re closer than what most people have to say," D'Antoni said after the game before echoing himself later.

"We're close. I keep repeating it."

Yet the Lakers keep repeating the same problems.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.