Lakers clinging out hope that adversity will make them stronger

HOUSTON – In a season filled with underachieving results and never-ending soap opera twists, the Lakers are hoping to make sense of the unexplainable by convincing themselves they’ll get through this.

The Lakers (15-18) enter tonight’s game against the Houston Rockets (20-14) undermmanned in almost every sense of the word. They’re without starting center Dwight Howard for at least a week while he nurses a torn labrum in his right shoulder. The Lakers will play without starting forward Pau Gasol for at least two games because of a concussion. They also will miss reserve forward Jordan Hill for at least a week because of a small tear in the labrum of his left hip.

In their place? Second-round draft pick Robert Sacre will start at center. Metta World Peace says he’s starting at power forward. Darius Morris will likely start at shooting guard. As if they haven’t been burdened enough already, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash will likely play even larger roles in the offense.

Somehow, someway, the Lakers seem convinced they could become stronger through all these adversities even if they’ve shown few signs suggesting they will.

“In tough times, I truly believe this can truly bring a team together,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. “We happen to be one of those teams that pulls together through tough times where we wind up becoming a serious juggarnaut in the playoffs because you’ve been through things that other teams have not. It gives you a stronger bond.”

The Lakers deny the New York Daily News report that says Bryant and Lakers center Dwight Howard had a heated exchange following the team’s New Year’s Day loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. But Bryant admitted he’s no longer staying as patient as he has been for most of the season.

“Step in a little bit more and crack the whip a little bit more and communicate a little bit more,” Bryant said. “In tough times that’s what they really lean on myself and Steve to try to right the ship.”

There’s also another member too that has spoken up in recent days.

“I’m speaking up. Derek Fisher isn’t here no more,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said, referring to the former Lakers guard that was traded last season. “I’m taking what I learned from Derek, everything I learned from Derek. I should’ve started it earlier but I didn’t realize that presence wasn’t going to be there. I thought we would’ve had it. But no Derek Fisher presence. I should’ve spoke up earlier.”

That still doesn’t overshadowthe Lakers’ 11th place standing in the Western Conference.

They remain last in the league in fast-break points allowed. The Lakers remain 25th in points allowed (100.82). Even if the Lakers boast a fifth-best 102.88 points per game, only Bryant’s league-leading 30.5 points has remained consistent. Meanwhile, the Lakers haven’t fielded a definitive lineup and say they still feel behind on pick-and-roll coverages because of a lack of training camp under D’Antoni.

“We’re not where we need to be at all and it’s something we have to get better at,” D’Antoni said. “As a coach, you just do put your head down and keep sluging away. You do the best you can. It’s still fun. The guys are still listening.”

Hence, why the Lakers still cling onto the slippery possibility that this might work out after all. Despite their depleted lineup, the Lakers believe the small guy combination may help them play at the tempo D’Antoni wants. They wonder if relative unknowns in Sacre or Morris could spark another version of “Linsanity.” They believe that soon enough the on-court learning curve will fade.

It hasn’t happened yet.

“If you stay positive and keep working, you can turn that adversity into a strength,” Nash said. “Considering we don’t have any common experiences and haven’t been through anything as a group before, I think fairly well. We haven’t had any major blowups or guys check out. Guys come to practice every day, work hard, get along. There’s a new group under a lot of pressure and under the microscope and have faced a lot of adversity. We’ve handled it well. We just haven’t responded with victories.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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