Gentlemen, start your over-reaction.
Foreheads all over Lakerland plunged into tabletops when Mike Brown gave his ETA on when his club would attain championship form.
"It'll probably be around Christmas, maybe the first of the year, before we're really going to be clicking," Brown said.
Huh? Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are actually going to have to achieve some sort of familiarity? That's not the way it works on my fantasy team.
Then the Lakers played their opener at Staples Center, and one more question surfaced: Which Christmas?
They were taken apart by a fringy playoff contender from Dallas, 99-91, and if Brown was looking forward to watching this team cope with struggle, as he said he was, that particular mission was accomplished.
They played with the sense of distraction that champions usually have on Opening Night, with the rings and banners and everything, except the Lakers didn't win any of those last spring, as you might recall.
And maybe Howard and Bryant will speed up the timetable when they play a few healthy games, which they didn't do during the most needlessly overanalyzed preseason in NBA history.
Howard was forceful offensively, too much so in the end, as he picked up his fifth and sixth fouls while he had the ball. Nash's haircut made him look younger, but nothing else did.
So, no, the Lakers did not roll off the assembly line with perfect fuel efficiency Tuesday night, particularly in the first half. They trailed Dallas 48-46 at the break, and let's not use adjustment as an excuse, since the Mavericks didn't have Dirk Nowitzki and were breaking in O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Elton Brand as new starters.
The other way to view it is that the Lakers missed 19 of 31 free throws and neither Bryant nor Nash shot even one. If they'd gone 22 of 31, which still isn't good, they would have won.
"We lost the game defensively," Antawn Jamison said. "We gave up too many second-chance points, didn't guard the pick and roll well. That's what we have to hang our hat on, until we become more familiar with the offense."
The most troublesome part of the half was in the backcourt, where the Mavericks bodied up Nash all over the court. Rodrigue Beaubois caught him alone in the backcourt and stripped him for a layup and a score.
Of course, this is a new deal for Nash, too, because he's accustomed to monopolizing the ball, dribbling his way through a forest of picks, and then creating layups for his mates.
Here, everyone is reading options and trying to reach each other. It wasn't an illusion that the Mavericks appeared to be playing the game in the first half while the Lakers were thinking the game.
The third quarter was even less reassuring, since it contained a flagrant foul by Howard, more unforeseen punch from Dallas center and waiver-wire refugee Eddy Curry, and not much running until Steve Blake found Gasol on the fly, and Metta World Peace did the same for Jordan Hill.
For the record, Curry has played in 24 games the past three seasons, although he did clock 83 minutes for the league champion Heat last season.
The Mavericks closed out the quarter with an 8-point lead. When Brendan Wright, who also wandered in from the NBA wilderness to join Dallas, somehow banked in a 15-footer while getting hammered, the Mavericks led by 15.
It was 85-73 when Brown put Bryant, Nash and Gasol back into the game. They did not move the needle immediately. World Peace accidentally tapped in a Maverickss shot that kept the lead at 15, and the Lakers' offense devolved into a series of out-of-rhythm perimeter shots.
At that, it was at least as functional as the Lakers defense. Dallas led 91-77 when Beaubois beat Nash into the lane, kept going to the hoop and dished off to Wright for the type of gimme that the acquisition of Howard was supposed to prevent.
The exodus of Laker loyalists began with 3:16 left, as they spared themselves the sight of two more bricked Howard free throws.
Meanwhile, the insurgents on the Mavericks' bench leaped and celebrated each basket as if this were some faraway Game 7.
Instead it was just Game 1, but the holidays seem colder and more distant than anyone thought.
"It's not like we can just come out and turn the light switch on," Jamison said. "But this is why we get paid."
(c)2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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