By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles Lakers had very little time to lick their wounds after stunningly losing their regular-season opener to the Dallas Mavericks but, almost to a man, they said that time was their most precious commodity.
Less than 24 hours after being humbled by the Mavericks 99-91 on their home court in downtown Los Angeles, the Lakers were set to face the Trail Blazers in Portland on Wednesday.
"It's a process," guard Kobe Bryant said of fine-tuning a potentially potent Lakers starting five boosted by the offseason acquisitions of six-time All-Star Dwight Howard and twice Most Valuable Player Steve Nash.
"We just gotta continue to chip away, continue to play at it. We just continue working on things, continue to get better and continue to plan to win. Just try to get better every day."
Lakers fans had arrived at the Staples Center for Tuesday's game in exuberant mood, eager to see how Howard and Nash would dovetail with fellow All-Stars Bryant and Pau Gasol, plus Metta World Peace.
However, the sellout crowd was stunned into silence by the end of the fourth quarter as the Lakers, who had made a strong start, misfired after half-time to be outplayed by an undermanned Mavericks lineup.
"It's not the way we wanted it to go," Spaniard Gasol said after scoring a game-high 23 points on erratic eight-of-19 shooting.
"We know it's not going to happen for us right away, but we've just got to continue to stick with it and understand we have to be a little more solid defensively.
"It's going to take a little bit of time, and that's okay. We just have to stay with it, put in a conscious effort every game, every day, every play, to get better."
WOEFUL FREE-THROW DISPLAY
Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who moved to Los Angeles from the Orlando Magic in a blockbuster 12-player trade, made only three-of-14 free throws as the Lakers collectively shot a woeful 38 percent.
"That was incredible, I've never seen a game like that," said Gasol, whose own six-of-eight effort was the best free throw display for the Lakers.
"That's something that we have got to improve on right away. When we get to the line, we've got to knock them down and at least be 75 (percent) or better."
Howard, who has struggled with free throws throughout his career, felt he was over-complicating the task.
"I've just got to stop thinking so much and get up there and make them," said Howard, who contributed 19 points and 10 rebounds in his Lakers debut.
Howard and Nash were welcomed with rapturous applause by Lakers fans when they first stepped on the court but they both ended the night with plenty to think about.
"Obviously, it was a disappointment for us," Nash, who has long been renowned for his pick-and-roll genius, said after weighing in with only seven points and four assists.
"We have high expectations and we didn't play well. I feel like we're thinking too much instead of playing. At the same time, we don't have the confidence just to play.
"We're not totally confident in where we're going, but we've grown a lot. We've come a long way with it and we'll get better with it."
Howard, who is easing his way into form after having back surgery in April, repeated the team mantra that "time" was the crucial ingredient.
"It's not an excuse, but it will all come with time," said the 26-year-old center, who is popularly known as Superman because of his athletic prowess. "We can't get frustrated, it's the first game.
"We haven't had an opportunity to really play together as much as we want, but we're going to get it. ... We're going to chip away, and we're going to get better."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)