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Off Day Follows Off Night

Times Staff Writer

On the bright side, the NBA’s most-valuable-player vote shouldn’t be too complicated.

At the end of a four-game, four-city losing streak -- they haven’t won in 10 days -- the 2-6 Lakers took a personal day Wednesday, leaving it all behind.

It is going on four decades since the Lakers started as poorly, and Phil Jackson is another loss from tying his longest streak as a coach. At least five of their 14 players are injured, suspended or apparently unusable, two others are rookies, so the safety net’s looking pretty small down there.

In case you missed it, Shaquille O’Neal has missed a few games -- well, all of them -- temporarily putting the organization’s on-court course into the hands of the other two sides of the triangle -- Jackson and Kobe Bryant.

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Let’s just say, if O’Neal needed a ride to his next checkup, he’d have at least two offers. Everybody in the locker room would knock over Mrs. Christie to massage his toe, if they thought it would help.

So annoyed by the losing streak when it was at three games, the Lakers over the long weekend shot jumpers until the nets bled and a resolute Bryant barely made eye contact with teammates. They set their jaws, balled their fists, squared their shoulders and ... missed 21 of their first 26 shots against the Atlanta Hawks, missed 62 shots in all, and as of Wednesday afternoon ranked last in the NBA in field-goal percentage.

On top of it, the Lakers have a suspicion people are laughing at them, that players and television analysts are enjoying this after three springs of parades in L.A.

So, they shrug. And they wait. And they try not to lean too hard on Bryant, whose two triple-doubles have brought their only two wins, now into mid-November, or fuss over O’Neal, who’ll be back soon enough. They stretch their tight ankles, and rub their sore quads, and nod to Jackson.

But it tries even their patience, and skews perspective earned in their three title seasons, none of them seamless.

“We’re beat up physically and mentally at this point,” said Brian Shaw, their only consistent shooter in the last week. “Nobody knows what to do. We’ve never lost at this pace.

“We’re finding out how difficult it is with him not in there.”

At the conclusion of week two, their highest-percentage shooter after Shaw (52.4% field goals, 53.8% three-pointers) is the now-suspended Soumaila Samake (.467). OK, then ...

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The three-point shooter they traded for over the summer -- Tracy Murray -- has attempted nine three-pointers in six games. He did not play Tuesday night despite a very short bench, and Friday in Washington had his playing time consist of subbing in for Rick Fox with 23.9 seconds left and subbing out for Devean George with 23.9 seconds left, around two Jerry Stackhouse free throws.

Complicating things, perhaps, is that Bryant’s patience seems to have fluttered, particularly with the teammates who can’t make an open shot.

“Their roles have changed now, especially when Shaquille is out,” Bryant said Tuesday night. “When Shaquille’s playing, him and I usually combine for 60, 65 points. But now the pressure has shifted to them somewhat. They need to feel the responsibility of that and not take it lightly.

“I think they know. I think they know. It’s a responsibility. You know, I think we’re letting each other down. Shots aren’t falling. Obviously I’m going to continue to draw and pitch, continue to get it to them, continue to come to them. That’s the only way to build a solid team. We’re obviously playing in June, not playing for now. So, I’m going to keep coming to them and I told them that. The ball’s going to go down for us.”

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Through Tuesday’s games, Bryant led the league in field-goal attempts and was sixth in free-throw attempts.... Bryant also ranks first in what the NBA calls its “efficiency rating,” a formula that considers most statistical categories. He is just ahead of Steve Francis and Tracy McGrady.


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