Lakers have plenty of issues

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:11 PM ET

TORONTO - As long as Kobe Bryant is able to impose his will on games, the Los Angeles Lakers will always be a threat.

As long as Pau Gasol isn't physically dominated by an opponent, the Lakers are more than capable of three-peating.

And as the Lakers continue their seven-game road trip heading into next week'’s all-star break, there's plenty of issues that need to be resolved.

When it comes to beating the NBA's elite, the Lakers haven’t been able to step up. The team’s latest missteps, at home no less, to Boston and San Antonio the most recent examples.

No one knows for sure whether Ron Artest is happy or whether he actually did request a trade, though it’s hard to see any team taking on Ron-Ron's contract and quirky personality.

Steve Blake's free-agent acquisition hasn't exactly panned out and Andrew Bynum's health is always a concern.

GM Mitch Kupchak is itching to make a deal, but it's unlikely he’ll be able to pull off anything remotely resembling the Gasol trade that basically re-shaped the Western Conference landscape in L.A.'s favour.

In the three years Gasol has rode shotgun with Bryant, the Lakers have appeared in three NBA finals, winning the past two.

In each year, the Lakers emerged with the best record in the West, which isn’t going to happen this year as long as the Spurs continue to roll.

“I’m kind of used to up and down,” Lakers owner Jerry Buss said. “We’ve had a lot of up and down seasons that turned out pretty up. And a few that have turned down.

“I’m not surprised or anything. Nothing’s different.”

But something is different with these Lakers, who have shown a vulnerability not seen since the Bryant-Gasol tandem was formed.

Bryant is hardly fazed, using every shred of criticism and concern into motivation, turning questions about his team’s lack of mental toughness as challenges.

But that’s Bryant, the game’s ultimate closer and competitor who nonetheless challenged Gasol to pick up his game.

“The Lakers are the best team in the West,’’ Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “And I’m not just saying that to blow smoke at them. They just are.

“They’re going to have some moments. You cannot expect them to be perfect every night, but they’re the best team. We can play with them and anybody else. There are four or five of us that have the opportunity to be the last team standing in the West.”

AROUND THE RIM

Despite nursing a bad back, Dwyane Wade managed to post his first triple-double in five years in helping Miami beat Charlotte, where Bobcats owner Michael Jordan had a courtside view of Flash’s brilliance. Wade even wore one of Jordan’s trademark shoes. “I kind of stopped trying to get triple-doubles,” Wade mused afterward. “I used to try and I wasn’t succeeding. I’m like one of those guys who always gets close to triple-doubles.” Wade recorded his triple-double a night after LeBron James’ 51-point masterpiece ... Mark Cuban leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit of winning a title. He’s willing to spend and is willing to listen to any trade offer if it’ll help the Mavs. “We’re going to be opportunistic and we’re not afraid to pull the trigger,’’ Cuban said. “There’s a lot of teams that get nervous about making trades, but not us.” With the Feb. 24 trade deadline looming, expect Dallas to be active ... Frank Vogel isn’t exactly a household coaching name, not even in hoops-mad Indiana. After he replaced Jim O’Brien on an interim basis, Vogel convened with starting centre Roy Hibbert over lunch at an Indy eatery. “People were coming up asking for his autograph,” Vogel said. “I may as well been the ball boy. People don’t know who I am.” At 37 years old, Vogel is now known as the youngest coach and is 4-0 heading into Tuesday’s tip in Miami ... Alvin Gentry is no longer a fan of Kevin Garnett. During Boston’s visit to Phoenix, the Big Ticket hit Suns big man Channing Frye in the groin and then pulled a Bruce Bowen by placing his foot where Frye could land on it following a heave, as dangerous an action as they come in basketball. “I used to be a big fan,’’ Gentry said of Garnett. “Some of the antics he’s pulled lately, you don’t need to do that as a star player. I’ve never seen Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or even a Dwyane Wade do that ... I lost a little respect for him.” Earlier this season, Garnett earned the wrath of Charlie Villanueva, who accused Garnett of calling the Pistons forward a cancer patient ... The Suns insist they won’t trade Steve Nash and Nash insists he doesn’t want to be dealt, but rumours persist nonetheless. “Maybe I’m old school, but I signed a contract to play here and I want to honour it,’’ Nash said. “I feel like I owe it to my teammates and the city and everybody to keep battling until they tell me it’s time to go.”


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