ORLANDO, Fla. -- The first signs of a season's crumble came at the end of December. The losses were peculiar. To Utah and Philadelphia and Milwaukee, three teams destined for the bottom of the standings when this season is said and done, the stinging defeats undercut the Lakers encouraging, if misleading start to the season.
But then things got worse. By Friday, the Lakers were defeated, losers of 15 of their last 18 after a 114-105 loss to the Orlando Magic (12-32), who had won one game in January.
Mike D'Antoni's forceful pregame monologue about the search for defensive heart yielded no results. Nick Young's frustration continued to mount as he picked up his fourth technical foul in five games.
Pau Gasol, the stately, composed leader of these broken Lakers (16-28) minced no words.
"Bottom line is, when you lose against the worst teams in the league, you got to ask yourself why," he said. "And, kind of, what does that make you?"
Only twice in their last 18 games have the Lakers held an opponent under 100 points -- and in eight straight losses -- a trend that is ravaging a team already deconstructed by injuries.
The Lakers continued to play well offensively, led by 22 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists from Gasol. Kendall Marshall added 19 points and 14 assists, while Jodie Meeks finished with 16 points.
It was of little consolation. The Magic shot 52.9 percent from the floor, one night after the Lakers allowed the two-time defending champion Heat to shoot 57.7 percent.
"There's no use talking about the offense," D'Antoni said. "We'll score enough points. We need to talk about the defense."
Gasol was happy to answer the call on that one, saying, "Every team in the league knows the Lakers are not very good defensively, to say the least."
The Lakers had ample opportunity to run away from the Magic, holding leads of 38-30 in the second quarter and 65-55 in the third. But each time the Lakers lapsed defensively, allowing the Magic to storm back.
After the Lakers went up by 10, Victor Oladipo and Jameer Nelson made back-to-back 3-pointers. The Lakers then fouled Nelson on a jumper leading to a 3-point play. In less than a minute, the Magic was one behind.
"For some reason we were just rotating too hard (defensively), too crazy, leaving guys open and we weren't very smart," D'Antoni said.
Orlando ended the third quarter on a 14-0 run, which was punctuated by Young's seventh technical of the season when he spiked the ball after not getting a foul call.
The Lakers are 2-4 on the longest trip of the season, which concludes Sunday in New York. The Lakers would like to end it on a win, but what evidence is there that will happen?
"We fought against Chicago, we fought against Miami," Young said. "Today we just lost our focus it seemed like. We can say we looked tired, but ain't no way we were supposed to lose tonight."
'Melo goes off
The defensive assignments won't be getting any easier for the Lakers when they play the Knicks. At Madison Square Garden on Friday night, the Knicks beat the Charlotte Bobcats 125-96. But nobody was looking at the team performance.
Carmelo Anthony scored 62 points, breaking the Garden record of 61 set by Kobe Bryant on Feb. 2, 2009.
"It's big-time," Young said of Anthony's performance. "Obviously, they needed something like that to happen where they've been losing."
The Knicks are 16-27 and snapped a five-game losing streak against the Bobcats.
D'Antoni, the coach of the Knicks until 2011, brushed off any special meaning of a game in New York.
"That means the last game of the road trip (and) I go home on ... Sunday night," D'Antoni said. "It doesn't mean anything. It's another team."
Henry pushed back
Xavier Henry's return to the Lakers lineup is on hold after the swingman "didn't come through totally" after returning to the practice court this week, D'Antoni said.
Originally given a timeline of 7-10 days because of a knee injury suffered Dec. 29, Henry now could be out an additional 10-14 days, D'Antoni said. Henry, however, offered a more aggressive timeline.
"I think in the next week they'll let me play," he said.
Henry practiced with the Lakers on Wednesday in Miami and said his knee felt good both during the shootaround Thursday in Miami and Friday in Orlando. Team trainers, however, want to take it slow and reduce the risk of him causing a new injury.
He will undergo an MRI on Monday in Los Angeles.
Henry was originally diagnosed with a bone bruise and abnormality of the meniscus in his right knee.
"They don't care if this little meniscus gets hurts a little more," he said. "I can play with that. But if something else happens to my knee, they don't want that to happen."
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