Lakers’ good times roll away quickly as they get rocked by Spurs
The Lakers took another turn for the worse, unable to clinch the Western Conference after losing at home to the very team they might face in the first round of the playoffs.
Their old nemeses were back in town, with an emphasis on old, but the Lakers couldn’t beat the San Antonio Spurs, who looked like a spry, playoff-ready team in a 100-81 victory Sunday at Staples Center.
It was strange, mainly because the Lakers won fairly easily in San Antonio almost two weeks ago, but it’s hard to win when you shoot poorly, receive no help from your reserves (again) and get generally outhustled for the final three quarters.
The boos began after Richard Jefferson’s breakaway dunk midway through the third quarter and made a final appearance after the game, when the handful of fans still in the arena briefly voiced their displeasure before disappearing into their Sunday afternoon plans.
On top of everything, Cleveland (60-17) officially clinched the NBA’s best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Lakers (55-22) played well Friday in a 106-92 victory over Utah, but their momentum apparently ended there, Coach Phil Jackson calling Sunday’s effort a “flat game” that “doesn’t bode well for the playoffs.”
“That was totally inconsistent from one game to the next shooting-wise and defensive playing,” Jackson said.
The Lakers shot only 40.7%. Their reserves were outscored, 20-4. A decent first quarter ended in their favor, 24-22, but that might have been it for their highlights, other than a season-high 32 points from Pau Gasol.
They had one good push early in the fourth quarter to move within 71-69 with 8:39 to play, but the Spurs countered with a 16-3 run and that was that.
Kobe Bryant had another rough time, following up his five-for-23 night against Utah with an eight-for-24 game against San Antonio.
“I just missed a lot of opportunities and I can live with that,” said Bryant, who had 22 points. “I’m going to get those looks in the playoffs and I’ll take my chances there.”
Bryant wasn’t the only one with shooting issues. Ron Artest made two of nine three-point attempts, continuing to founder from behind the arc, where he is six for his last 36 attempts (16.7%), a slump that has lasted almost two weeks.
There was also another face-to-face involving Artest, who picked up his second technical foul in the last three games while jockeying for position with Manu Ginobili during a second-quarter inbounds pass. Each player was called for a technical foul, though Artest had the more flamboyant response, running to the far end of the court and shaking his head in disbelief.
Shortly thereafter, Bryant got a technical foul for disputing a foul call on Artest.
The Lakers, no surprise, trailed the Spurs at halftime, 48-40, with Jackson seemingly irritated by both Artest and referee Bennett Salvatore, who called the technical foul on Bryant.
“The way that we ended up the half I think turned the referees against us, and when you do that, that’s an unfortunate thing,” Jackson said. “Ron didn’t back off and didn’t read that official well enough to know that you’ve got to back off, you’ve got to leave him alone, he’s not going to take any more of that.”
Artest used the same alibi after he picked up a technical foul Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I don’t even remember what happened,” he said Sunday.
As for Bryant’s technical foul . . .
“You never know with a referee,” Jackson said. “You go over and talk to him, he may not have wanted anybody to talk to him at that point. Didn’t look like Kobe berated him at all. But with Bennett, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Jackson is no fan of the city of San Antonio, having poked fun in the past at the murky waters hugging up against the Riverwalk and the “land of tourists and conventioneers,” so he couldn’t help but joke about the concept of playing there in the playoffs . . . even if it was as early as the first round.
“It would feel very common or very natural to go to San Antonio and spend this part of the year in San Antonio, which is always one of my favorite times,” he said dryly before the game.
With the victory, the Spurs (47-29) moved a half-game ahead of Portland (47-30) for seventh place in the West.
Ginobili had 32 points, beating the Lakers on an assortment of screen-and-roll plays. They might see more of him in about two weeks.