Lakers searching for answers after loss

Who needs a trio of superstars to beat the Lakers when a 5-foot-5 journeyman guard is all it takes?

Before the Lakers could get to their long-anticipated showdown with the Heat they were tripped and shoved in the mud by the Milwaukee Bucks, specifically Earl Boykins. If you stacked the jerseys of the nine NBA teams Boykins has played for they’d probably stand taller than him. Yet he used 26 of the minutes vacated by the injured Brandon Jennings to drop a game-high 22 points on the Lakers and lead the Bucks to a 98-79 victory that had boos tumbling toward the Staples Center court at the end.

Truth is, the list of Laker issues is a lot longer than Boykins as well.

Phil Jackson said “we have to analyze our individual games and how it applies to what we’re doing as a group,” which sounds like they have some very fundamental problems to work out.

“Our ball movement, our execution skills,” were the first two that Jackson enumerated. “Guys are doing things one-on-one in the offense instead of letting the offense work for them, making it much too hard.”

How about anger management? Kobe Bryant lost his cool after he was called for charging in the fourth quarter, getting technical fouls from a pair of officials, then directing a certain two words immortalized in the Grammy-nominated Cee-Lo song toward official Bill Spooner as he left the court. Those were two more words than Bryant said to reporters, as he departed without comment. (It was Bryant’s first two-technical game since March 26, 2008, vs. Charlotte.)

Then there’s that season-long matter of defense, which Jackson first cited as an argument against this team winning 70 games and hasn’t encountered any resistance lately. The Bucks made eight of their first 11 shots and shot 61 percent in the first quarter.

The defense improved in the second half, except on Boykins. He hit six of eight shots and made all four of his three-pointers, while the Bucks starters were a combined seven for 20 in the half.

But the production from L.A.’s bench fell off, the Lakers getting hammered by the inconsistency that has plagued them for some time now.

It begs the question: Based on their current play, are they worthy of being called an elite team? Their 21-8 record is based largely on victories over weak opponents and doesn’t include a road win against a team that currently holds a winning record.

The Bucks are a good team to ask. They’ve played Utah, Denver, Orlando, Miami, Dallas and San Antonio this month. Keyon Dooling still gives the nod to the Lakers because of their depth and their status as reigning champions, but Andrew Bogut says the San Antonio Spurs are the most impressive team they’ve faced so far.

“[The Spurs] have a unique system, where they really spread the scoring load,” Bogut said. “Then at the end of the game they’ve got Ginobili. I think they’re playing real well. That was tough for us. ... They’re going to be a tough matchup in the playoffs.”

As for Dallas, “They’re just deep, man. They’ve got a fantastic bench that could start for most teams.”

Tuesday night the Bucks had Boykins on their bench. That was enough.

“If I’m in the NBA, I always feel like I’m capable of leading a team to a win,” Boykins, who has managed to stick around the league for the better part of 12 years.

“I’ve been around for a little while. I knew it’s just about being prepared, being mentally prepared when the time comes, just take advantage of the opportunity.”

The time has come for the Lakers to face the Heat, on Christmas Day, the matchup we expected as soon as LeBron James made his decision. We had a number of questions about the Heat’s ability to put it together, questions that have begun to be resolved in recent weeks when their only loss was a close one at home to the Mavericks. At the moment they seem to have a better sense of themselves than the Lakers do.

“What are we missing right now?” Ron Artest said. “I’m not sure. Whatever we’re missing, it’s collective.”