Lakers get a chance to improve record against sub-.500 teams

The Lakers’ point guard briefly summoned his teammates together. He seemed eager to share a life lesson following their uninspiring 88-85 victory Saturday over the Western Conference’s worst team in the New Orleans Hornets.

Usually Derek Fisher filled that role when he spent 13 storied seasons with the Lakers. But this time, the words came from recently acquired guard Ramon Sessions, who apparently has added more than just speed to the Lakers’ backcourt. He added perspective on why the Lakers need to feel motivated when playing sub-.500 opponents, including Sunday against the Golden State Warriors and Tuesday against the New Jersey Nets.

“When I came in with Cleveland and all the other teams I’m on, we saw this as our championship,” Sessions said in regard to playing the Lakers. “Teams are coming in and playing hard. We just have to be consistent and play hard, too.”

The Lakers’ three-point win over New Orleans looked ugly enough. A 14-point first-quarter lead slowly became a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit that finally became a single-digit victory thanks to Kobe Bryant’s game-winning three-pointer. That pales to last season when Sessions’ team-leading 32 points off the bench helped the NBA’s worst team in the Cleveland Cavaliers upset the Lakers, 104-99, just before the All-Star break.

This season, the Lakers have gone 11-5 against teams under .500. Those losses represent the number of games the Lakers (32-20) trail the San Antonio Spurs (36-14) for second place in the Western Conference.

The Lakers have rarely felt good about those wins. They needed Kobe Bryant’s 42 points to secure a five-point win over Cleveland in January. His game-winner proved enough to eek out a two-point victory in February against Toronto. And they only prevailed two weeks ago against New Orleans by forcing overtime.

“I don’t know how many times even at home I could sit down with 10 minutes to go in the game, undo my tie and cross my feet,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.

That’s because the Lakers’ 21-5 home record remains deceptive. They lost four of their last seven games at Staples Center. The Lakers have only won by double-digit margins eight times. Brown has remained so uncomfortable with the Lakers’ flimsy leads that their 106-73 win Jan. 31 against the Charlotte Bobcats marked the only time Kobe Bryant has played less than 30 minutes. Since that stretch, seldom-used forward Devin Ebanks has played a total of six minutes in garbage time.

The upcoming games against Golden State and New Jersey give the Lakers a rare opportunity to rest their starters, including Bryant. It’s presumptuous to think the Brown will feel comfortable doing so even if Bryant averages 38.6 minutes a game, third highest in the NBA.

The Lakers’ wins this season against Golden State each came within single-digit margins, including a three-point victory last week that featured Andrew Bynum sitting for most of the fourth quarter after shooting an ill-advised three-pointer.

“They don’t have anything to lose,” Brown said of the Warriors (20-30). “They’ll come in here, free and loose. If they shoot the ball and it goes in, we’ll end up giving them confidence. If it doesn’t go in, we may end up stretching the lead. Who knows.”

This much remains clear. Not everyone seems mindful of the importance that the Lakers take these games seriously.

“We just need to win games,” Bynum said. “That’s our focus. We need to keep the third spot.”

Sessions might have to speak up again soon.