WASHINGTON -- It was another plunge Tuesday for the Los Angeles Lakers in their seesaw season.
Coming into their three-game trip through Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit, the Lakers were a team on the rise, riding a season-long three-game winning streak, enjoying a couple of days with their heads above water back at .500 at 7-7, holding their last opponent in Sacramento to a season-low 86 points with their improving defense.
They even had the positive news to go on that Kobe Bryant would be back in the fold for another two seasons by inking an unexpected contract extension just hours before their plane took off for the trip.
Then the other shoe dropped.
That three-game win streak? Replace it with the reality of a 1-5 road record after a 116-111 loss to the Washington Wizards.
That stingy defense? Consider how the Wizards scored 30 points more than the Kings did, shooting 52.9 percent from the field in the process thanks to mostly easy baskets (outscoring L.A. 56-36 in the paint and 21-7 in fastbreak points).
That wind-in-your-sails feeling of locking Bryant up? How about the sobering double standard of Pau Gasol not even having a chance to open up extension talks while he has played every game this season versus Bryant getting guaranteed money presented to him without slipping on a uniform in more than seven months?
When you observe the Lakers this season, they can look like a completely different team depending on which lens you focus your view through.
Is it encouraging that a nine-point, fourth-quarter road deficit with 8:50 to go turned into a one-point lead with 1:54 left, or is it discouraging because the Lakers ultimately lost by five?
Can the Lakers build some confidence from the fact that seven players scored in double digits, including the entire starting lineup, or is that just another example of how confused the pecking order on the team remains as Jordan Farmar (22 points) represented the team's fifth different leading scorer in their last five games?
"You expect that out of a young team and a pretty new team," said Gasol, who had his own personal sweet-and-sour type of game with 17 points, eights assists and six rebounds offset by five turnovers, and the Wizards' Nene putting up a career-high 30 points. "We don't expect to have a great record on the road at this point."
The Lakers are trying to embrace an energy-based style of play that is charged by a deep nine-man rotation, but what's there to say when they lose a game partially based on hustle?
"They got more 50-50 balls than us," Nick Young said.
"I know you're not going to like it because it's anti-climatic, but you block a shot and the ball is right there and we don't get it," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said, illustrating the little things that added up. "Sometimes, stuff happens and you just have to try to get over it. We're not quite there enough to get over bad things happening on the court."
"Not quite" pretty much sums up where the Lakers are these days. Not quite a good team, as their 7-8 record would suggest. Not quite a bad team, as their improving young talent (Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Farmar, Young, etc.) has kept them afloat with Bryant's return coming soon.
Of course, being "not quite" is the worst place to be in the NBA. If you're not quite a rebuilding team, all you have to show for it is early playoff exits and late first-round draft picks. If you're not quite a contender, it's pretty much the same thing. It might fly in some cities but not for a fan base that roots for a team with 16 championships.
The Lakers' trip continues Wednesday with the Brooklyn Nets, a team with its own problems at 4-10. A winnable game? Sure. Especially since the Nets, just like L.A., will be on the second night of a back-to-back.
But then again, the Lakers are 0-3 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.
In other words, there's no guarantee the seesaw is going back up right away.