Although playing without their aging star is not how the Los Angeles Lakers envisioned ending their struggles, they may again need to find answers without Kobe Bryant.
With the status of the 37-year-old guard up in the air, the Lakers continue their road trip with the second of a back-to-back Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic.
After beating Brooklyn to open this five-game swing, the Lakers (1-6) have dropped two straight to match their start from last season, which ended with a 21-61 record.
The difference this time around was supposed to be Bryant, who missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, but the 20-year veteran was shooting 32.0 percent through six games before sitting out a 101-88 loss at Miami on Tuesday to rest a sore back.
Coach Byron Scott said he's not planning to have Bryant available against the Magic three days after revealing that the 17-time All-Star had expressed a desire to try playing as many games as he can since this may be his last season.
"If he can't go, you know he's hurt," Scott said. "The level of concern is pretty up there right now."
Bryant downplayed things, however, saying it comes with the territory for his age.
"It's wear and tear," he said. "It's soreness, something I can knock out with a little rest and treatment."
The Lakers made 11 of 22 from 3-point range to stay with the Heat into the third quarter but fizzled down the stretch and had just 39 points in the second half. Los Angeles was outscored 46-30 in the paint and attempted just 12 free throws.
"We settled on jump shots," Scott said. "You've still got to attack the rim, that's the bottom line to get to the free throw line."
After being dominated inside by Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside, who combined for 49 points and 26 rebounds, the Lakers may catch a break in the paint against Orlando (3-5).
The Magic leaned heavily on center Nikola Vucevic in their first four games, but he bruised his right knee against Houston on Nov. 4 and hasn't played in the last three.
Vucevic, averaging 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, didn't practice Tuesday and Orlando is waiting to see how he responds to treatment. He had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the Magic's 103-97 home win over the Lakers on Feb. 6. Tobias Harris, who averages 14.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, scored a career-high 34 in that win.
Evan Fournier is also capable of picking up the slack in Vucevic's absence, though much of his work comes from beyond the 3-point line. He has made 19 of 49 attempts, including 4 of 9 while scoring 21 points during a 97-84 loss at Indiana on Monday.
That was one of a handful of disappointing results for the young Magic as they look to grow past three straight seasons with 25 or fewer wins.
"We need to pick it up," said Harris. "We expect more from ourselves and from each other."
Orlando has held fourth-quarter leads against Washington, Oklahoma City, Houston and Indiana before falling short. The Magic have shot just 20.8 percent during the final two minutes when a game is within four points.
"(Finishing) is something that we're really struggling with and it's cost us," coach Scott Skiles told the team's official website. "We've got to find a way to get better with it."
The Magic have won two straight and six of seven at home against the Lakers, who are 5-28 on the road since Dec. 15, 2014.