Kobe Bryant’s back problems are Lakers’ biggest pain in 105-85 loss

On The Lakers

What a mess in Texas.

Already without Pau Gasol, the Lakers found themselves without Kobe Bryant as well, a 1-2 punch that flattened them Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs.

Bryant left the game late in the third quarter because of back spasms and never came back in the Spurs’ 105-85 victory Tuesday at AT&T Center.

As if the Lakers needed more bad medical news, all eyes move from Bryant’s injured finger to his back, which the team can only hope will be sound enough for him to play tonight at Dallas.

His back initially seized up on a turnaround 14-foot bank over Manu Ginobili with 3:27 left in the first quarter. Bryant briefly left during a timeout 23 seconds later but returned to play the entire second quarter, actually making three of four shots.

Then his back really tightened during halftime.

He started the third quarter and played all but the final 38 seconds, but, in a telltale sign, did not attempt a shot the entire time. He did not play in the fourth quarter, spending it in the locker room with longtime trainer Gary Vitti.

“I couldn’t walk. I literally couldn’t walk,” he said. “So that’s the only way I don’t play.”

Will he play tonight?

“I think so,” said Bryant, who is usually much more optimistic about playing with an injury. “Pretty sure. If I can walk, I’ll play.”

After a string of poor shooting games, Bryant’s accuracy was the least of the Lakers’ worries Tuesday -- he made seven of 10 shots and had 16 points.

The line to see Vitti after the game didn’t end with Bryant. Ron Artest suffered a sprained right index finger after it got caught in a jersey on a second-quarter drive. Sasha Vujacic suffered a strained right hamstring in the second quarter, aggravating a mild twinge he felt before the game. Reserve forward Adam Morrison didn’t play because of flu symptoms.

“It’s been a long night,” Vitti said as he left the arena.

The injury news wasn’t all negative for the Lakers. Gasol has “earmarked” Friday’s game against the Clippers as his return date from a strained left hamstring, Coach Phil Jackson said. Also, Luke Walton returned Tuesday after missing eight weeks because of a pinched nerve in his back. He had four points in six minutes.

On the court, the Lakers (29-9) were never really in the game after trailing in the first quarter, 27-23. They have now lost four straight road games, three by double figures and one against Portland by nine points.

Artest missed nine of 12 shots, many on wild drives to the hoop. Lamar Odom took only six shots, making two, drawing a postgame rebuke from Jackson. Artest had 13 points; Odom had 10.

“We’ve got to get Lamar playing basketball in an offensive way where he’s taking some responsibility to play and step up when Kobe’s out of the game,” Jackson said.

What could Artest be doing better these days? “Almost everything,” Jackson said.

A typical sequence for Artest came in the final seconds of the third quarter. Andrew Bynum was pleading for the ball in the post, extending his arm out and yelling to Artest, but Artest ignored the call and drove in on his own, hitting the front of the rim on an off-balance layup attempt. End of quarter, Lakers down, 75-63.

Bynum had 23 points but a subpar 11-for-23 shooting night. Jordan Farmar made only three of nine shots.

“They took our kids to school out there,” Jackson said of the Spurs. The Lakers’ reserves played a total of 60 minutes 10 seconds without an assist.

And yet, the Lakers closed to within 85-79 after Farmar’s fastbreak layup that started on a steal by Walton with 5:38 to play. The Spurs (23-13) answered with baskets on four consecutive layups to end the threat.

The night’s most squeamish moment came when a fan got sick at halfcourt during a jalapeno-eating contest before the start of the fourth quarter. An unfortunate close-up was shown live on the scoreboard. Fans reacted with disgust. For his efforts, the fan won a year’s supply of food at a local fast-food chain.

At least the guy won the contest. It was more than the Lakers could say, injured or otherwise.