They returned home from a six-game, 11-day trip sporting a five-game winning streak, knowing their thoughts would be pulled in the wrong direction, pulled toward the Christmas Day game rather than the task in front of them.
So the Lakers gathered at the shoot-around Tuesday, promising they wouldn’t overlook the Milwaukee Bucks in their game that night at Staples Center, declaring that Saturday’s much-hyped game against the Miami Heat would not be discussed until the right moment.
The moment may be right, now, but first the Lakers had to explain their stunning 98-79 loss to the Bucks, a game from which Kobe Bryant was ejected late in the fourth quarter after picking up consecutive technical fouls.
“We just didn’t play well,” said Lamar Odom, who missed the shoot-around because he wasn’t feeling well. “We could have lost to anybody tonight, anybody in the league.”
Like the rest of the Lakers, it was a frustrating night for Bryant, who finished with 21 points.
He had been called for an offensive foul with 2:07 left for charging into Andrew Bogut, and lashed out at the officials.
Bryant was given a technical foul by referee Haywoode Workman, and, seconds later, another one by Bill Spooner, who tossed Bryant from the game. It was the first time Bryant received two technicals since March 2008 against Charlotte.
Bryant departed the court swearing and waving his arms at the officials.
He also declined to talk to reporters.
It was just part of a tough day for Bryant, who was a half-hour late to the shoot-around because he had a car accident on his way to practice, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
“Yeah, it’s frustration,” Jackson said. “It’s just being frustrated. Referees are human. They see the other team outwork you, they are going to give them the benefit of the calls, you know?”
The Lakers’ point total was a season low, and the fewest they have scored against Milwaukee since 1969.
Jackson said they were “worried” about not playing at the right level after returning home.
It was discussed earlier in the day.
“In the huddle at the walk-through this morning, it was mentioned, ‘Don’t mess around and let this game get away from us and then ruin what we’re trying to do on Christmas,’” Jackson said.
So much for holding each other accountable, or for playing at a sufficiently high level against the sub-.500 Bucks (11-16), who were without injured Brandon Jennings (fractured left foot) and Corey Maggette (concussion).
Then again, Jackson has seen from his teams before when they have come back home from a trip and failed to match the opponent’s effort.
“I don’t think it’s endemic in our team,” Jackson said. “I think it’s pretty natural for teams to have that happen to them and I think everybody knows it and you have to prepare against it.
“But, it’s still not an excuse to have a team outwork you as much as Milwaukee did tonight.”
It started with Earl Boykins, who lighted up the Lakers for 22 points off the bench on eight-for-12 shooting, four for five on three-point attempts.
It included John Salmons, who had 20 points and did a solid defensive job on Bryant, once stealing the ball from him while sitting on the floor.