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Lakers just keep boring in on their worst season ever

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It was one of the Lakers' few sunshine moments this season, a historically bizarre victory in Cleveland when backup center Robert Sacre was allowed to keep playing despite picking up a sixth foul.

The serenity, though, was short-lived.

As Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni walked to the team bus in the underbelly of Quicken Loans Arena, he was heckled by fans cordoned behind a rope.

"Where's Phil Jackson?" one of them yelled in a surprisingly loud outburst.

"Your team is awful!" screamed another.

They did not wear Cavaliers apparel.

They wore Kobe Bryant jerseys.

Welcome to the Lakers' 2013-14 season, where nobody is spared and there is little gray area between anger and angst other than complete boredom.

The Lakers are a shell of themselves, and it shows everywhere.

Pick your mini-era — Kobe-Shaq in 2000, 2001 and 2002 or Kobe-Pau in 2009 and 2010 — but when the Lakers were winning championships, their haters showed up with vitriol-filled lungs to cheer against them in other cities.

Cowbells in Sacramento to mess with Phil Jackson. Derisive Khloe Kardashian chants aimed at Lamar Odom in Boston. Loud anti-Bryant rage just about anywhere.

But during a loss in Memphis last month, a fan in the third row noted to another, "It's kind of quiet in here."

The Lakers have dropped to third in the league in road attendance behind Miami and Oklahoma City. The anger (and, sure, support) that used to accompany their arrival has fallen.

"It might not be as exciting because we're losing most of those games," Pau Gasol said. "It makes sense."

It's worse than sensible.

"It's depressing," said Danny Kohan, a Lakers fan who lives in Agoura Hills and went to Denver to see them play the Nuggets on March 7, tying it in with a trip to see his brother. "I'm 29, so pretty much my entire life, I think there was one year where we didn't make the playoffs. It feels like a waste of time now because you know what the outcome's going to be. It's a helpless feeling."

Kohan and his friend, Sam Sakhai, bought tickets well ahead of time for $20 above their $60 face value. They said they could have purchased them online closer to game day for only $30.

"Prices went way down," Kohan said before the Lakers were done losing, 134-126, suffering their first sweep ever in the season series against Denver.

Sakhai, who wore a Showtime-era Jamaal Wilkes jersey that night, realized that 11 of the Lakers' 15 players did not have guaranteed contracts next season, adding to the general unrest over the team's future.

"I guess that's really why we're watching the games, to see who's good enough to stick around. It's a scouting mission," Sakhai said. "Not used to it at all."

Followers have tuned out while the Lakers (22-44) edge closer to the 1974-75 team's futility mark (30-52) for lowest winning percentage since the franchise moved from Minneapolis in 1960.

Ratings have plunged about 40% on the Lakers' home television network, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, in only the second year of a 25-year, $5-billion contract.

Three of their national-TV games have been dumped ahead of their scheduled date, twice by ESPN and once by TNT. ABC gave serious consideration to replacing a recent game against Oklahoma City with Phoenix-Golden State, what would have been a rare scheduling move for the network.

Home crowds have also been tepid, the Lakers experiencing several non-sellouts for the first time since 2006, including an unexpected one against the Clippers two weeks ago.

If the Lakers can't fill Staples Center for a game against their down-the-hall rivals, they're really in trouble. Not that the Clippers cared. Their loud locker-room celebration after beating the Lakers by a record-shattering 48 points — the Lakers' worst loss ever; the Clippers' biggest win ever — could be heard in an adjacent room while D'Antoni held his postgame news conference.

Not surprisingly, stars have appeared with less frequency as well.

Comedian George Lopez was the sole celebrity shown in a recent scoreboard rendition of "Hollywood Nights," the Bob Seger song that typically accompanies brief camera shots of smiling in-house A-list talent during a third-quarter timeout.

Lopez, perhaps sensing he was the lone household name in the arena, had a character actor stand up next to him and they both showed off the inside and outside of their funky embroidered jackets as the song kept playing. No other stars were shown. The game resumed. The Lakers lost to Charlotte, 110-100.

These days, there's a fired-up home crowd only if the opponent warrants it.

Fans couldn't wait last month to stand up and boo Dwight Howard, who bolted for Houston last July after spending one underwhelming season with the Lakers. The jeers gradually petered out as the Lakers were destroyed that night, 134-108, their worst home loss ever to the Rockets.

"This has been a tough year — painful for the players, coaches, fans. Point blank," said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who won two championships with the team as a player. "But there's no doubt in my mind, with the standard of excellence that this franchise has, we can get back to a championship level."

But there's that nagging question. How soon?

Bryant went off on Lakers management last week, saying he had "not one lick" of patience for the team to retool. Reporters in attendance were witnessing par on Bryant's course, the latest bunker shot from a player whose main career goal was to pass Michael Jordan in championships.

Jordan had six. Bryant, who turns 36 in August, has been stuck on five. He might permanently be there.

He's under contract with the Lakers for two more years and $48.5 million, a staggering amount for a player who lasted only six games this season because of injuries.

It stunts the Lakers' purchasing power going forward, enough for TNT analyst Steve Kerr to predict a long turnaround process. And that was before the historic loss to the Clippers.

"It's amazing how quickly things can slip away from you in this league," Kerr said on a recent broadcast. "One year ago the Lakers got [Steve] Nash, Dwight Howard and they're thinking championship. Now it's all just falling apart and it's on to the next phase. It's going to be a few years before they can get back to at least a respectable level."

In that game in Memphis, the Lakers were down 12 in the fourth quarter when a Grizzlies fan disdainfully yelled, "Wiggins is looking pretty good right about now, isn't he?"

That would be Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, a likely top-three pick in the NBA draft in June and a possible future member of the Lakers, who before Sunday's games shared the NBA's fourth-worst record with Utah and Boston. The May 20 draft lottery will officially determine the pecking order on June 26, one of few life rafts remaining for Lakers fans.

They won't want to hear this, but it can always be worse. This isn't Milwaukee or Charlotte, where the losing happens annually.

"It's been tough but there's a lot of other teams where this is their identity every year," Lakers reserve guard Jordan Farmar said. "It's not going to be a forever-type thing. Lakers fans and staff have to be patient. L.A. is going to be all right."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan

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