It’s Two and Out for Lakers Again
The Seattle SuperSonics blew in from the Pacific Northwest, a blast of reality to remind all parties involved that the Lakers without Kobe Bryant are a team with only a handful of hope against the top Western Conference teams.
The Lakers had won three of four without the league’s second-highest scorer but were pulled back in their most significant test since Bryant went down, falling to the SuperSonics, 104-93, in front of 18,997 Tuesday at Staples Center.
The Lakers failed to win a third consecutive game, extending what was already a team record for the longest start to a season without winning three in a row. The Lakers have won two consecutive games nine times but can’t advance past that.
Chucky Atkins, who had 51 points in his last two games, had 13 against Seattle. Lamar Odom had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Luke Walton, one of few Laker bright spots, had a career-high 19 points, most in garbage time.
Without Bryant, the Lakers had managed to stay afloat with victories over Golden State (twice) and Minnesota (once). They even managed to beat Cleveland, finishing off the final 3 1/2 quarters without Bryant.
But Seattle, now 29-11 and in firm control of the Northwest Division, was a different type of challenge, a team that could match the Lakers three-pointer for three-pointer.
Vladimir Radmanovic made eight of 14 from three-point range and had 26 points. Ray Allen made four of nine from beyond the arc and had 25 points.
The SuperSonics made 13 of 33 three-point attempts. The Lakers made eight of 26.
“Guys were like machine-gun shooters,” Laker Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said.
The SuperSonics also separated themselves with 20 offensive rebounds to nine for the Lakers.
“They just killed us on the glass,” Walton said. “They have so many scorers and shooters, got offensive rebounds and easy put-backs and kick-outs for easy three-pointers, and we can’t let that happen.”
Without the intrigue of the Allen-Bryant matchup -- the two exchanged words during an exhibition-season feud -- the game became devoid of emotion once it tilted Seattle’s direction midway through the third quarter.
“The tendency for most teams is to let their guard down a little bit,” Allen said. “Your defense is a little more relaxed. You feel like you don’t have a guy that’s going to go at you from that position at every time. That’s when you have letdowns. The one thing I’ve tried to instill in this team is no matter who comes into the locker room, our preparation should always be the same.”
The Lakers trailed at halftime, 57-51, after the SuperSonics scored five points in the final six seconds. Rashard Lewis dunked with 5.9 seconds left, Laker rookie Sasha Vujacic was called for traveling after the ball was inbounded and Allen made a three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left in the second quarter.
“We drill on getting a good last two minutes of a quarter, and then the last 30 seconds we had a loose-ball foul in a bonus situation, we had a turnover or maybe even two, and that changed the whole game,” Tomjanovich said.
From there, the Lakers couldn’t stay with the SuperSonics, getting buried by a slew of three-pointers on the way to an 83-68 deficit after three quarters. There were even some boos.
“It’s not something I stay up and think about. I want to win as many games as we can,” Tomjanovich said. “If you’ve got two out of every three, that’s not bad.”
But, at the same time, “all those second shots and the spacing and the threes just wore us down,” Tomjanovich said.
Odom blamed himself.
“We would have been right in the game if in the third quarter we would have secured some of the offensive rebounds,” he said. “I think [Reggie] Evans got about four or five of them. I don’t know if I did not do a good job of putting a body on him or locating him or what, but I feel like I lost this game.”
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A Year Ago
Comparing the Laker numbers this season with the same point last season:
*--* Category ’04-05 ’03-04 Record 22-17 25-14 Points 98.2 99.4 Opponent Points 98.0 94.5 Rebounds 44.1 43.0 Assists 19.7 24.2 Field Goal % 43.7 45.1 Opponent FG% 43.7 43.5