By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - The struggling Los Angeles Lakers were unable to solve their mounting problems in the National Basketball Association's most northern outpost on Sunday as the Toronto Raptors handed them a 108-103 defeat.
With the offseason addition of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers created the NBA's newest super team, rekindling fond memories of the team's "Showtime" era from 1979-1989 with Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But the season has not gone according to script and the Lakers (17-23) limped out of Toronto with only two more wins than the lowly Raptors (15-26), having lost five consecutive road games and sitting 11th in the 15-team Western Conference.
Toronto also entered the contest on a four-game slide but there is no such panic in Raptorland where the bar of expectations has been set significantly lower.
The Raptors may be a young team filled with promise but their roster does not include a player of the same pedigree found on the Lakers lineup.
In the midst of rebuild, Toronto coach Dwane Casey is not particularly disturbed by his team's record but admitted he was surprised to find the Lakers in the same neighborhood.
"I would have thought they were nuts," said Casey, when asked what he would have thought if someone had projected the Lakers and Raptors would have similar records.
"It's tough, it takes time for those personalities and talents to come together. Miami went through it and it's not easy. Just because you have great talent on your team doesn't always mean everyone is going to click immediately."
Approaching the midway point of the season time is running out on the Lakers to get their act together.
A coaching switch early in the season combined with a steady run of injuries Nash, Howard and Pau Gasol has not allowed the time for the Lakers considerable talents to gel.
"One thing I didn't expect was that this would be the most challenging year in my career but that's great, I'm always looking for a challenge," said Nash. "We have high expectations ourselves, for me the expectations haven't been met.
"We need time to play together, we're a top 10 offense and we still have a long way to go. Improvement will come."
The Lakers continued to misfire on Sunday, allowing the Raptors to take control in the opening quarter, building a 19-point lead and then holding on for the win.
Bryant, the league's leading scorer, ended the opening half with just four points while Nash, who sits fifth on the all-time assists list, dished out one helper and Howard watched the end of the half in the locker room after being ejected after a second technical foul.
The Lakers showed flashes of their potential in the second half as Bryant finished with a game-high 26 points and Nash adding 16 points and nine assists but it was not enough to climb out of the early hole they had dug for themselves.
"Everybody wants to know what's the reason, whose fault it is, I'll just make it real easy; point the finger at me," said Bryant. "Let me take all that. This way we don't have to worry about that has a team.
"That's part of my responsibility, I'll take the arrows and we can just focus on playing together and figuring out how to get out of this ditch."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)