It wasn’t an embarrassing loss, the type that would make Phil Jackson light into his players again at their next practice.
Instead, it was a deeper defeat, the type that didn’t quite set in until it had ended -- another loss at home, this time to a more polished team that simply outlasted the Lakers.
The Lakers came back from a 12-point deficit in the final few minutes of regulation to force overtime, but eventually lost to the Houston Rockets, 107-104, Friday at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant did what he could after an icy 3 1/2 quarters and finished with 53 points. It wasn’t enough.
Afterward, down the hall from a quiet locker room, Jackson was more pleased with the effort in losing to a Rockets team that has won 11 of its last 13 games.
“They can go in the showers and know they did what they had to do,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
The Lakers (38-34) couldn’t capitalize on a loss by the Denver Nuggets and remained 2 1/2 games ahead of them for sixth place in the Western Conference.
The Lakers trailed, 75-67, going into the fourth quarter, and didn’t show much fire until Bryant began heating up in the final four minutes.
He was 11 for 30 until turning around his night, almost bringing the Lakers with him.
He made a three-pointer to bring them within 88-79 with 4:04 left in the fourth quarter. Then he looped a shot over Yao Ming. Then he made two free throws. A 14-foot fadeaway. Another three-pointer. Two more free throws.
Then came the apparent game-saver for the Lakers.
With the Lakers trailing by three, Yao fouled Kwame Brown as soon as he touched the ball on an inbounds play, sending a 41.7% free-throw shooter to the line with 15.5 seconds left in regulation.
Brown missed the first free throw, and then the second, but Bryant took the long rebound and, with barely a look at the basket, made a three-pointer from the side with 11.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 95-95.
An exuberant Bryant chest-thumped Lamar Odom at midcourt.
“Just got a lucky bounce,” Bryant said. “Kwame should get an assist on the play.”
The Lakers looked like they would topple the Rockets in overtime, taking a four-point lead. It didn’t last.
The Rockets took a one-point lead when Yao hit a layup with 22.3 seconds to play.
Then Bryant was called for traveling after he changed pivot feet just past half court with 16.6 seconds left in overtime. Bryant was apparently bothered by Shane Battier and Yao Ming trapping him.
“I think he did travel,” Jackson said. “They made the correct call. But a lot of times they don’t make that call in that situation.’
Said Bryant: “They can make that call any time of the day.”
Rafer Alston made two free throws with 14.4 seconds left in overtime for a 107-104 Houston lead, and Bryant missed an off-balance 28-foot three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left.
“They deserved to win in regulation,” Bryant said. “They won in overtime.”
Bryant made 19 of 44 shots. Odom had 16 points, 17 rebounds and four assists before fouling out in overtime.
Yao finished with 39 points, making 17 of 21 free throws, and Tracy McGrady had 30 points and 10 assists despite making seven of 24 shots, including a miss in the final second of regulation.
KEYS TO THE GAME
* The Rockets lost a 12-point lead toward the end of regulation, then overcame a four-point deficit to win in overtime.
* Yao Ming was an all-around force for Houston. He had 39 points, made 17 of 21 free throws, took 11 rebounds and had four blocked shots.
* Tracy McGrady didn’t shoot very effectively -- seven for 24 on the night -- but he had 30 points thanks primarily to making 15 of 16 free throws. He also had 10 assists.
-- MIKE BRESNAHAN