The calendar flipped and it seemed like the Lakers were headed back in time.
Remember the final days of the Mike Brown era?
The Lakers put on an oldies-but-no-goodies display Tuesday night at Staples Center during a 103-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, coming out as flat as leftover champagne and not exactly putting their fans in the mood for party hats after their second defeat in three games.
Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol were no-shows for the New Year’s Day festivities, combining for 18 points while making only three of 19 shots.
Howard was particularly unproductive offensively, scoring seven points mostly on the strength of five free throws. He made one of seven shots and had 14 rebounds and five blocks.
The big men were hardly the only players wearing purple and gold who were more than a little off. The Lakers collectively shot 39.4% from the field (37 for 94) and were particularly dreadful on three-point attempts, making three of 22 (13.6%).
Not even Kobe Bryant, who scored 36 points after being labeled a “basketball genius” by Philadelphia Coach Doug Collins before the game, could save the Lakers against a team that lost 11 of 15 games in December.
“We didn’t seem to have the energy,” Bryant said. “If you watched the game, we seemed kind of sluggish, kind of stuck in the mud.”
Bryant nearly pulled them all the way out, his three-pointer with 1 minute 28 seconds left shaving the Lakers’ deficit to 99-97. That was as good as it got for Lakers fans who spent much of the game entertaining themselves by booing 76ers center Kwame Brown. Philadelphia’s Spencer Hawes hit a baseline jumper and Jrue Holiday followed a missed Metta World Peace three-pointer with a dunk.
If this was indicative of the kind of display the Lakers (15-16) intend to put on against the resurgent Clippers (25-7) on Friday, well, good luck.
“Sometimes a three-day layoff, New Year’s thrown in, I can understand the first quarter getting your bearings,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But I don’t understand how in the second half we didn’t take control of the game.”
Holiday, who didn’t play in teams’ first meeting last month, literally dribbled circles around the Lakers on the way to 26 points and 10 assists.
The Lakers were groggy from the opening tip, failing to defend and sloppy on offense.
A wide-open Bryant induced some groans when he fumbled a perfectly placed pass from Steve Nash out of bounds along the baseline. Oh, the possibilities.
Jordan Hill briefly infused some energy off the bench with eight early points, and the Lakers shaved what had been an early 11-point deficit to three by the end of the first quarter.
The Lakers trailed, 54-50, at halftime after getting a combined seven points from Howard and Gasol on one-for-11 shooting. Howard played possibly the worst half of his career, missing all four shots and failing to run the floor in transition. He left the game late in the second quarter after picking up his third foul, his ledger to that point showing five rebounds and only three points, all of them on free throws.
“We have to have patience and we have to stick with it,” Howard said. “I know one thing, this won’t last forever.”
Why is energy still an ongoing issue for the Lakers?
“Because we’re old as . . . ,” Bryant said. “What do you want? We just have to figure out how to play when we don’t have that energy. We have to change things up a little bit defensively, we have to figure out what we want to do offensively, we have to figure out what we want to do on nights we don’t have those legs or have that energy.”
It didn’t help the Lakers that they had to play without backup point guard Chris Duhon, who experienced a flare-up in his back six years after undergoing surgery to alleviate pain in the area. Duhon said he expected to play Friday against the Clippers.
They will need him, and a whole lot more than what they delivered Tuesday night.