Another day, another set of issues.
If it wasn’t the polite defense the Lakers offered in the first half, it was their inability to score in the final minutes that turned a winnable game into the type that will be remembered if the Lakers fail to make the playoffs for only the fourth time in the team’s 45 years in Los Angeles.
The Toronto Raptors had a season-high 65 points in the first half and held on to beat the Lakers here for the first time since 1996, 108-102, in front of 19,800 on Sunday at Air Canada Centre.
The Laker offense, a study in confusion since the All-Star break, looked relatively stable, but defense seemed optional against one of the meeker teams in the Eastern Conference.
Kobe Bryant scored 31 points and Chucky Atkins finished with 22 for the Lakers, who otherwise stumbled through the first half of a game that began at 10 a.m. Pacific time. The Raptors made 13 of 19 shots in the second quarter and all seven of their three-point attempts on the way to a 65-55 halftime lead.
“Can’t come out and give a team 65 points in the first half and then battle your way back,” Coach Frank Hamblen said. “Our biological clocks are probably still in L.A. I thought it would be a good warmup for [the Raptors], but I didn’t plan on them scoring 65 points that first half.”
The Lakers were better in the third quarter, holding the Raptors to seven-for-21 shooting and finishing with a 19-6 run, Atkins’ three-pointer with 31.5 seconds left cutting the Raptor lead to 86-84.
Then came the fourth quarter, 12 minutes to be filed away for future reference if the Lakers don’t advance beyond April.
Bryant found Slava Medvedenko under the basket for a layup with 5:42 to play to give the Lakers a 94-92 lead, their first since early in the second quarter. Atkins then made a three-pointer with 2:33 left for a 102-98 lead, the Lakers’ largest of the game.
The Lakers wouldn’t score for the rest of the game.
They missed four shots -- two each by Atkins and Bryant -- and made two turnovers, one by Bryant and one by Atkins.
It was a chance for a road victory in a schedule filled with hazards the rest of the way, with 17 of the final 28 games taking place away from Staples Center. Instead, it turned into a game the Lakers will regret if they don’t make the playoffs.
“If it happens that way, you could definitely look back at this game and say that’s a game that we should have won,” Atkins said. “Definitely.”
This against a team that has been fractured since trading Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets in December.
The Raptors have lingered in the lower half of the East, and some players demanded to be traded before last Thursday’s deadline. The Raptors, like the Lakers, did not make any deals, apparently setting up a second half of dissension and discord.
But the Raptors have won three consecutive games since the All-Star break, while the Lakers have slid in the other direction, losing two in a row after finally winning three consecutive games for the first time this season.
Jalen Rose had 26 points for the Raptors and reserve forward Donyell Marshall had 19, making five of eight three-point attempts.
“Any time you give up 65 points at halftime, it’s tough to win the game, I don’t care who you are,” Atkins said. “This is a team that we definitely thought that we should have beat today.”
The day began early for the Lakers, who met at the team hotel at 9:45 a.m. (6:45 Pacific time) to go over last-minute game planning.
“We’ve already had a good day’s work,” Hamblen said before the game.
It turned into a lost day at the office, early start or not.
“We shouldn’t have [any] excuses,” Atkins said. “We’re in the eighth spot [in the Western Conference] trying to make a playoff run. Ain’t no time for excuses.”
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Toronto scored the last 10 points after the Lakers had taken a 102-98 lead on Chucky Atkins’ jump shot with 2:30 remaining (Laker possessions in color):
*--* 2:17 Jalen Rose makes two free throws, 102-100 2:01 Atkins drives to the basket, misses a finger roll 1:43 Rose makes a running jumper, 102-102 1:31 Kobe Bryant layup blocked by Morris Peterson 1:26 After Bryant rebound, Atkins misses jump shot 1:02 Rose makes jump shot off Rafer Alston assist, 102-104 0:52 Bryant misses jump shot, Toronto’s Alston rebounds 0:29 Rose misses jump shot, Donyell Marshall rebounds 0:26 Marshall makes two free throws, 102-106 0:18 Bryant turns ball over on a bad pass 0:11 Rose makes two free throws, 102-108 0:05 Atkins loses his dribble, turns ball over