Defeat really stings Lakers
Kobe Bryant played, but it didn’t matter.
The Lakers were lost Wednesday, with or without Bryant, falling to a struggling New Orleans team for a variety of reasons, 105-89, in front of a quickly exiting crowd at Staples Center.
Luke Walton’s three-point shooting wasn’t working. The center position wasn’t clicking. Chris Paul wasn’t on their team and Jannero Pargo used to be, but no longer.
In a season that has surpassed expectations, Wednesday wasn’t one of the finest days for the Lakers.
The Hornets played without three significant players -- Peja Stojakovic, David West and Bobby Jackson -- but managed to get rid of a five-game losing streak thanks to Paul (26 points, 11 assists) and Pargo (21 points), who was cut by the Lakers during the 2003-04 season.
The Lakers, now 12-6 and with only two games left in the generous home-friendly portion of their schedule, will be tested further in their next pocket of games.
After a home game Friday against Atlanta, the Lakers play host to San Antonio on Sunday, play back-to-back road games in Houston and Dallas, and return home to play Houston again next Friday.
Sensing that an effort like the one Wednesday won’t do much against the Texas teams, Coach Phil Jackson couldn’t quite categorize the Lakers as contenders.
“We’re not in competition with San Antonio yet,” Jackson said. “This team isn’t at that level. We haven’t shown that we can play at that level in a game. So those games, we just have to play above our experience and our precision that we normally do. We have to bring a lot more to the game than we showed tonight.”
In addition to experience and precision, it would be a good idea to pack the rebounding, three-point accuracy and free-throw accuracy for the next few games.
The Lakers, who had won three in a row, were overwhelmed on the boards, 49-31, made only three of 19 three-point attempts (15.8%) and only 14 of 23 free throws (60.9%).
Walton, the league leader in three-point accuracy coming into the game, missed all four of his attempts from behind the arc. Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown combined for nine points in 37 minutes.
Bryant played despite sustaining a sprained right ankle Monday against Indiana, although he was limited later in the game when the ankle tightened up on him. He stayed mostly on the perimeter, finishing with 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting in 37 minutes.
Lamar Odom had 20 points, but also seven turnovers and was part of a bizarre play that Jackson called one of the most unusual he had ever seen.
With the Lakers trailing, 93-87, after a pair of free throws by Paul, Odom took the ball out under the basket and, instead of passing it, began dribbling up court with it. He was called for a turnover that Jackson said he hadn’t witnessed since “junior high school, somewhere back [there].”
Said Odom: “I played bad throughout the whole game so I’m not surprised by it at all. I really didn’t take care of the ball. I guess it had an effect on all of us. We didn’t take care of the ball.”
For the second time in a little more than a week, the Lakers failed to take care of a struggling opponent. Wednesday’s loss was reminiscent of their home loss to Milwaukee on Nov. 28.
There was, however, one notable exception: Paul.
The Lakers tried just about everything -- pressing up against Paul, laying off of him -- to no avail. Paul blew by just about everybody who tried to guard him. “Penetration, it’s a killer,” Jackson said.
Fans started heading for the exits after Rasual Butler’s leaner provided a 95-87 Hornets lead with 2:42 to play. Pargo’s three-pointer with 2:00 left sent another wave to the exits.
One bit of good news for the Lakers was Bryant’s rapid return, although he scored only eight points in the second half.
“I couldn’t run the way I normally do, couldn’t explode going to the basket,” he said.
After scoring 34 points in the first quarter, the Lakers didn’t show much, putting up only 18 second-quarter points on the way to a 54-52 deficit. It got slightly worse in the third quarter, the Lakers emerging with a 75-71 deficit, and then came the fourth quarter.