Just when you thought things couldn't get much worse for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2012-13 NBA season, the then 5-10 Orlando Magic arrived at the Staples Center.
The Magic put up an eye-opening 40 points in the fourth quarter and beat the Lakers, 113-103.
It was one of the more painful losses for the Lakers in this already tumultuous season.
This was Dwight Howard's first crack at his former team. This wasn't just any old "guy who gets traded faces his old squad" scenario. Howard nearly destroyed the Magic franchise and burned every bridge on the way out of town. Howard wanted to leave, then wanted to stay, then wanted a better point guard, then wanted to leave and eventually did.
Howard played admirably against his former team with 21 points and 15 rebounds. If you looked at just the box score, it looks decent, but gander over to the free-throw numbers.
Howard went 9-for-21 from the foul line as the Magic employed "Hack-a-Howard." The big man went 7-for-14 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and Orlando got a lot of easy looks in its late comeback. Howard is the anchor of that defense and didn't block a shot.
After the game, Howard went out of his way to be as effusive as a toaster oven.
"It wasn't emotional," Howard said of playing his old chums.
Pressed further, Howard replied, "It wasn't emotional. It just bothered us that we didn't play the way we wanted to play."
When asked about the Magic fouling him so frequently, Howard opined, "I don't have any thoughts."
Is the chapter closed with the Magic now that's he played them?
"The chapter was closed when I got traded," he said. "The chapter was closed when I got traded."
Howard was clearly not himself after the loss. Normally out-going and chatty, these quotes were downright wordy compared to his response when asked if he talked to any of his former teammates.
("He didn't talk to me, I didn't talk to him," was what Glen Davis of the Magic said when asked if he spoke with Howard.)
Sunday night may not have been emotional according to Howard, but there's no explanation why a normally fun-loving guy barely showed a facial expression discussing the loss.
It could have been more than just falling to the Magic.
Things are obviously not working as expected in Laker Land. L.A. is 8-9 on the season and in third place in the Pacific. The Lakers had very real title aspirations at the beginning of the season. We haven't reached the quarter pole yet and the Lakers have sacrificed Mike Brown in favor of Mike D'Antoni.
Since the offensive mad scientist limped his way to the Lakers' bench, they are 3-4 with home losses to the Magic and Indiana Pacers, both of whom are under .500.
The Lakers have gone over the 100-point plateau just three times with D'Antoni and the prevailing logic seems to be that things will really hum when Steve Nash gets back.
Mike Brown would probably agree with that sentiment - about his Princeton offense.
Offensive systems can't be mastered in two weeks, so criticizing the Lakers seems a tad silly. But D'Antoni has a bigger problem on his hands and that's Pau Gasol.
Since D'Antoni took over as head coach, Gasol is averaging 10.1 ppg. This is horrendous production from a man who has averaged at least 17.0 ppg in his career, played in four All-Star games and been All-NBA three times.
Gasol didn't play the last six minutes of the close game Sunday night. It was the second time recently that Gasol was benched in the latter stages of a game.
Gasol can be a tough guy to read sometimes. He's a little more sensitive than most NBA players, but Kobe Bryant offered his thoughts on getting Gasol on track.
"Put your big boy pants on. Come on, just adjust. You can't whine about it or complain about it. You have to adjust to it," Bryant said after Sunday's loss. "As long as I'm here, we're not going to lose him. That's just not going to happen. I've been around him long enough. I know how to deal with him. I know him."
Bryant does and you have to trust Kobe in this instance. Bryant is displaying tough love and leadership while questioning Gasol's manhood.
There is no easy solution to the Lakers' woes, so Bryant is trying something. If it works, we'll have to see, but he is right. Gasol needs to figure out how to make himself fit in this offense. You know D'Antoni is, but his job is to win games and if Gasol isn't bringing him the best chance, he has to sit and watch.
The Lakers have plenty of time to find the cure to what's ailing them. Of course getting a Hall of Fame point guard back, who is a master of this offense, will help measurably. In the meantime, D'Antoni and Bryant are doing anything they can to get the Lakers on track.
Sunday was a rough night, but it could be a valuable teaching lesson. If Bryant's strategy of kicking Gasol in the shorts works, getting one of the league's best bigs back in tune could be just enough to propel the Lakers.
If not, Gasol might get traded. There's always speculation attached to his name, and he hasn't always handled it beautifully.
Nash will be back at some point soon. Hopefully. His timetable keeps getting pushed back, but he will return. When he does, D'Antoni's offense should purr.
There are peaks and valleys in a long NBA season. So far, it's been almost all valleys for the Lakers.
Trust in Kobe, get Howard to shoot 300 free throws a day and pray for Nash. That's what will help the Lakers the most.