Lakers have varying explanations for poor inside presence against Sacramento

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The Lakers have the size, but it suddenly shriveled. The Lakers have the muscle, but it suddenly looked frail. The Lakers have two of the best pick-and-roll front court players in the game, but they suddenly appeared lost on offense.

Once the Lakers’ 113-97 loss Wednesday to the Sacramento Kings became official, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol walked off the court shrinking in stature. Howard scored only four points because he had such few opportunities, shooting two of four from the field. Gasol only posted eight points because he missed so many of them, shooting three of 10 overall.

How do the Lakers explain their distinguishable skillset beyond Kobe Bryant’s greatness suddenly disappear?

“You’ll have to ask them,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Explanations varied.

Howard sounded circumspect.

“There’s no explanation,” he said. “We got another game coming up. There’s no need to go back to tonight’s game. It’s over with.”

Gasol sounded incredibly honest.

“I didn’t convert and I had good looks,” Gasol said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good game tonight.”

And together, they looked awful.

Gasol took plenty of mid-range jumpers, a staple that D’Antoni envisioned the Lakers forward excelling in his offense. But the shots rimmed out. Instead of attacking the basket, Gasol kept shooting. And missing.

Howard hardly established any rhythm. Howard didn’t attempt a single shot in the first quarter. His first basket came off of Gasol’s alley-oop lob with 7:36 left in the first quarter. Howard’s other basket came off Metta World Peace’s dumpoff pass with 8:05 left in the third quarter. Howard offered nothing beyond that.

“He was getting beat up and we weren’t doing anything as a team to help him with this loss,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll have to do a better job.”

The Lakers insisted they tried.

“They did a good job surrounding him and trying to keep the ball out of his hands for the most part,” Bryant said. “Our shooters have normally done a good job knocking down shots and opening the floor for him. Tonight, they didn’t have to leave them because their shots weren’t falling.” Bryant also suggested the Lakers’ bench force feed the ball to Howard instead of run pick-and-roll sets.

Still, that hardly assuaged the frustration.

Howard looked incredulous at times when Bryant shot the ball en route to a 38-point performance on 11 of 20 shooting. Gasol appeared flustered when his shot didn’t go in. Howard couldn’t composed himself when he accidentally struck an elbow to Sacramento’s Jason Thompson late in the game. Gasol couldn’t hold back his emotions when he lacked weakside help in the paint.

A startling admission emerged.

“We were tired, but we still got to play,” Howard said. “We have to play as hard as we can despite being tired.”

“We have to crash the glass better and have to get ourselves active on the offensive glass to get ourselves going in that way,” Gasol said. “That’s one way to do it. But they did a good job collapsing in the paint and forcing us to play from the outside.”

As a result, the Lakers’ size advantage suddenly became small.

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