Kobe Bryant seems to think there's nothing wrong with the first three-game losing streak in more than two years. After all, he scored 39, 26 and 34 points, respectively, in those three games.
Pau Gasol, who has averaged less than 14 points in the three losses, has a different take. He believes the defending NBA champions have been thrown out of sync because one guy again has become too dominant in the offense.
And guess who that guy would be?
"Kobe is a great player, the best offensive player out there ... but at the same time, we need to find some balance with our interior game, develop it a little more, moving the ball and changing sides,'' Gasol said gingerly, knowing he was treading on sacred territory by questioning Bryant and the offense of coach Phil Jackson. "We need to get focused on that a little more, to find balance, to find some flow.''
Gasol has grown frustrated recently by his lack of offensive opportunities. He was speaking Sunday after the Lakers had lost, 96-94, to the Magic in a rematch of last season's NBA Finals.
Watching the Magic run their offense through center Dwight Howard in the low post -- and beat the Lakers -- just accentuated his belief that the Lakers need to tweak their attack, or risk more losing that could threaten their defense of the title.
"I've always been a good post-up player, getting looks for myself, but also finding cutters, passing the ball out. It's a good way to attack,'' Gasol said. "I've always been a big believer that you work the game from inside out, and it becomes easier. The Magic do it with Dwight, and he's not a player with the best post moves, but it gives you balance. I think we need that.''
Gasol was key last season in the Lakers' drive to their NBA title. He played in his second consecutive All-Star Game last month. This is the first three-game losing streak since he was acquired midway in the 2007-08 season. It wasn't until his arrival that the Lakers found the balance they needed for Bryant to lead them to a title.
He has seen that balance erode.
He averaged 18.9 points last season, which is two points more than he is averaging this season. He is getting fewer shots, too. In these three losses -- in Miami, in Charlotte, in Orlando -- he took a combined 38 shots. Bryant, conversely, took 79 shots.
Bryant also took and missed the final shot, a 20-foot jumper that could have tied the game with :01.2 remaining.
"That was my shot,'' Bryant said. "You give that to me 10 times, and I'll make it nine times.''
Bryant believes that even in defeat Sunday, the Lakers regained the intensity they will need to win games later this season and into the playoffs.
The Lakers (46-18) still have the best record in the Western Conference, but their recent struggles have given hope to the surging Dallas Mavericks, who are riding a 11-game winning streak.
"The last two games [in Miami and Charlotte] we didn't play with the sense of urgency to compete,'' Bryant said. "Today, we did. We played really, really hard. We just missed some things defensively, execution wise. We didn't win the game, but I saw what I needed to see. If we play with this kind of effort, it will be hard for anyone to beat us four times in a series.''
Bryant, so confident in his talents, missed five games last month with a ankle injury, and the Lakers went 4-1 in his absence. Since his return, they are 4-4.
Gasol isn't the only one beginning to question the recent direction. Ron Artest, their big offseason acquisition, is having the worst offensive season of his career. He made only two of 10 shots Sunday.
"It's a different situation for me with Kobe here. In the past, I was always the second option, or first option [offensively],'' he said. "I'm still trying to find way on this team. I'm going to find my way. All this is practice for me now. It's a new style of play. I have to master my role.''
The Magic (44-20) were the aggressors for most of the game Sunday, leading almost from start to finish. Four different Magic players blocked shots in the first quarter. Howard was in foul trouble much of the game, but that didn't change anything.
Howard blocked a shot by Artest. Backup center Marcin Gortat blocked a shot by Gasol. Reserve Mickael Pietrus blocked Bryant's shot. And reserve Brandon Bass blocked Lamar Odom.
Vince Carter led the Magic with 25 points, but Howard had 15 points and 16 rebounds, giving the Magic a 50-39 rebounding edge. All five Magic starters reached double-figure scoring. The Lakers, by contrast, had only three players [Bryant with 34, Gasol with 20 and Derek Fisher with 11] score more than 10 points.
"You have to utilize your big man,'' Gasol said. "It's important to do that on a consistent basis. I'm not discouraged. We just can do things a little differently. We have the means and the players to do it differently.''