A 20-point deficit is often too much for a team to overcome.
Not the feisty, fun-to-watch Lakers.
But comebacks from two massive deficits? Sorry. Too much to ask.
The Portland Trail Blazers made sure of it, finally pushing away the Lakers, 114-108, on Sunday at Staples Center.
The effort was there from Xavier Henry, who had a career-high 27 points for the Lakers, and Robert Sacre, who had career highs in points (12) and rebounds (seven).
It wasn’t enough to offset a miserable game from Pau Gasol, who had six points on three-for-15 shooting and sat on the bench the entire fourth quarter.
He wasn’t alone.
The rapidly fading Jordan Hill was also benched in the fourth, along with Steve Blake, who could shoot only left-handed at the team’s morning shoot-around because of a hyperextended right elbow.
If this is the last game before Kobe Bryant returns from a torn Achilles’ tendon, the Lakers will happily bury it. Bryant will practice Tuesday through Thursday and might make his season debut Friday in Sacramento.
That the Lakers (9-9) did this well without him was credible, especially with a payroll that was $21 million less than last season’s ruinous collection of talent.
Their five on the floor for most of the fourth quarter Sunday totaled $5 million in salary. The average NBA salary per player is about $5.5 million.
Yet the active five were the ones who made the game interesting, the Lakers down 20 going into the fourth quarter and then only one, 99-98, after Shawne Williams’ tip-in with 3 minutes 40 seconds to play.
The Lakers had successfully come back from an early 21-4 deficit, even taking a brief lead in the second quarter. It didn’t quite happen again.
Damian Lillard scored six of his 26 points in the final three minutes and also blocked Jodie Meeks’ three-point attempt with 14.9 seconds left and Portland up four.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a study in steadiness for Portland (14-3), his 27 points and nine rebounds easily topping anything Gasol did.
Gasol said he might need an MRI exam on his sprained right ankle. He also understood why he was benched in the fourth quarter, which also happened a handful of times last season.
“I wasn’t upset because we were making a big run and I wasn’t having a particularly good night,” said Gasol, who had exactly as many points and rebounds (five) as Portland’s Joel Freeland.
It’s hard to be upset with Sacre, who successfully took Gasol’s spot.
The ebullient second-year center was the last player selected in the 2012 draft. Now he’s the first big man off the bench, supplanting Chris Kaman.
“I’ve been just waiting for my time and I’ve been waiting to seize the moment,” Sacre said. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get the win tonight but that’s what this team’s all about. You never know who’s going to come out and produce.”
Sacre even heard some “M-V-P” chants in the fourth quarter. “I don’t even know what to say,” he said, trying to suppress a smile. “I knew my time would come.”
Lakers fans were an active group Sunday, apparently eager to see a team that played hard despite a shrinking payroll.
And that’s despite awful efforts in the first and third quarters, the Lakers outscored, 73-48.
“Obviously, we compromised the game at the beginning of the game and the beginning of the second half when we just weren’t real good,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There was no resistance defensively. It bordered on, ‘Oh, well,’ like a day in the park.’”
It also wasn’t a good sign that Jordan Farmar left because of a moderate strain in his left hamstring. He had one assist in 56 seconds.
“It hurts,” D’Antoni said. “He’s been playing well.”
And it stuck the Lakers with only one healthy point guard. If that.
Steve Nash hasn’t played since Nov. 10 because of nerve damage in his back and Blake sat with a huge ice bag on his elbow in the fourth quarter.
Henry played point guard almost the entire fourth quarter. Meeks, also a shooting guard, sometimes brought the ball up court too.
“A lot of this game is heart and soul and how hard you fight. I thought that group did it,” D’Antoni said.