Title talk replaced by postseason goal as Lakers lower expecations

LOS ANGELES -- Metta World Peace predicted during the summer that the new-look Los Angeles Lakers would give the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' historic 72-10 record a run for its money.

Oh, how things have changed.

Following the Lakers' 112-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday that dropped their record to 15-18, the Lakers weren't talking about the 70-win plateau or even championship aspirations.

The bar has been lowered so far that several members of the team were focusing on using the final 49 games of the season to simply qualify for the postseason.

"I'm concerned," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after the game. "Everybody's concerned. You say, 'Oh well, we'll turn it around'? Well, we've got to do that. Yeah, there's concern. The hole's not too big. Mathematically, we can still make the playoffs. We just got to figure out our identity and play better. We're just not playing well."

The Lakers are in 11th place in the West and three games behind Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"The West is difficult," Steve Nash said. "We got to find a way to win 45, 46, 47 games. The window is closing."

The Lakers would have to go 30-19 the rest of the way to achieve the minimum amount of games that Nash mentioned.

To go from playing .455 ball through the first 33 games of the season to playing .612 ball during the final 49 games will take getting on the same page, something that appears to be difficult for the Lakers to do at the moment.

"I think it's fine for us to boil over a little bit," Kobe Bryant said. "I think it's fine for us to get a little chippy. I kind of get the sense that in this locker room that's finally starting to happen."

As chippy as things were, most of the talking continued to be to the media rather than to each other in the postgame locker room.

"It was quiet," Nash said. "I think guys are down. … It was quiet."

Dwight Howard said there has been enough of that edginess already this season anyway.

"It’s been chippy a lot this year," Howard said. "We don’t want to lose. Our intent is not to go out there and lose every game. This is a tough stretch. We just got to stay together. We can’t point the finger at anybody. This is a team thing."

While it may be a team thing, D'Antoni said that talk and chemistry-building is overrated as long as everybody is playing with maximum effort.

"The only thing we can ask these guys is play as hard as you can," D'Antoni said. "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."

Howard, who has been calling for chemistry improvement more than any of his teammates, did not want to respond to D'Antoni's claim after the game.

"This is not a back-and-forth between me and Mike," Howard told reporters. "Whatever he says, that’s how he feels. Whatever I say, that’s how I feel. There’s no need to go back and forth between me and him."

So, Howard was asked, how do you feel?

"I said how I feel," Howard reiterated. "We have to play together. We have to have team chemistry in order for us to win, and that’s how I feel."

And how is that team chemistry right now?

"It has to get better," Howard said.

Howard preached patience in order to make that improvement.

"It takes time," Howard said. "That’s the only thing I can tell you guys. Even the teams nowadays, they don’t get to win right away. Miami didn’t win right away. So, it takes time for all that stuff to come together. We, as players, got to understand that despite what’s going on around us, we have to stay the course and do whatever we do every day to get better and we can’t let anything affect us from the outside."

Yet Nash, as much of a team guy as the Lakers have, seemed to have patience that has been worn thin by this point.

"We should feel we're in a desperate position," Nash said. "It doesn't mean a panic. We got to embrace that. Come out every night and take it as a great opportunity to climb our way out of this hole. That's the way I've always approached pressure or desperation, is to embrace it, enjoy it and really go out there and take it as an opportunity to turn things around and get some positive vibes back. That, in some ways, will be a triumph in itself, and then we can go from there."

Even if they do indeed "go from there," just exactly where is the place they're going?

They might have recalibrated their goal into a postseason berth at this point, and that's no place for a team that came into this thing seeking a ring.

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