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Fans start to turn after latest loss
It was not loud, but late in the fourth quarter a few voices in a corner of Staples Center not far from the Lakers bench demanded to be heard.
“Re-fund,” came the chant. “Re-fund.”
The protests did not last long, but the sentiment surely resonated throughout the building as the Lakers were being blown out Sunday night by middling Memphis, 104-85.
In the grand scheme, where a season's success is measured by the length of the parade and the gaudiness of the ring, another listless effort and embarrassing defeat in the dead of winter might not mean much.
But to fans who spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars to watch the Lakers get blown out for the fourth time in less than two weeks, it was enough to boo their team off the court at the end of the night.
“That's to be expected,” center Andrew Bynum said. “If I paid all that money, I'd be mad, too.”
The end of a calendar year might be a time for reflection, an opportunity to take stock and improve shortcomings, but for the Lakers it did not mark any new beginnings.
After a 19-point home loss to Milwaukee, a 16-point Christmas Day defeat to Miami and a 15-point thrashing at San Antonio, the Lakers can now add another 19-point defeat.
“It's something my head is not processing right now,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said.
Said forward Matt Barnes, “I'm really at a loss for words to tell you the truth.”
Kobe Bryant had a curious suggestion to wake the Lakers from their slumber. He solicited help from the media. The more critical the stories, the better.
Maybe that would get them going.
“That's the role you guys play in this, writing the gloom-and-doom stories,” Bryant said. “I think that actually builds up a lot of tension. Most of the guys don't read, but we feel the energy from the crowd when we go out and how concerned everybody is, and I think that does put a lot of pressure.”
Well, yes, but the crowd at the outset Sunday night was so quiet you could hear a Fish flop. It was really possible to hear Derek Fisher hitting the court after he unsuccessfully tried to take a charge.
“Exactly my point,” Bryant said.
Bryant, who picked up another technical foul — his fifth in six games — to go along with his 28 points, cited the usual suspects: lack of energy, too many turnovers, inattentive defense. The solution, Bryant said, was each player finding his individual motivation.
But he did not buy Phil Jackson's belief that a lack of practice time — the Lakers were given Sunday off — was a culprit.
“We've had days off and blown teams out, so I'm not buying any of that Zen (bulls---),” Bryant said. “I think we're looking too far down the road instead of looking just at the game that's right in front of you. You start skipping steps if you look too far down the line.”
When the Lakers rebounded from three consecutive routs to pummel New Orleans, it might have looked like they had found their groove. Bynum, back in the starting lineup, had found his legs and was asserting himself in the middle. Lamar Odom's return to the bench added a go-to scorer to the second unit. And the Lakers looked interested in defending.
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But that game did not portend a trend.
They squeaked past Philadelphia on Friday night, then were routed by a Memphis team that was coming off back-to-back losses at Sacramento and Utah, the latter coming on Saturday night.
But the Lakers had no answer for Rudy Gay, who scored most of his 27 points outside, or burly Zach Randolph, who got most of his 21 points inside. Even Marc Gasol more than held his own against his more accomplished brother, Pau. Marc scored only four points, but he contributed 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocked shots.
“Everyone knows how good we can be, but right now our focus isn't there,” Bynum said. “What I mean by play for the next man is we're not putting each other in position to be successful with the basketball. We're doing a lot of individual things that are causing turnovers.”
The Grizzlies took advantage of 20 Lakers turnovers to spark their transition game, closing the first half with a flourish for a 48-39 lead. After Bryant came out on fire to start the second half, scoring 13 of the Lakers' 15 points to help them close within 58-56, they fell apart.
Memphis led by 17 by the end of the third quarter, then expanded the margin to as many as 26 in the fourth.
That the Lakers have been getting beaten so badly is what left Jackson the most disconcerted. He acknowledged an absence of focus and energy, saying Memphis had outworked his team. He might require more time on the practice court, but the responsibility to improve must come from the players.
That will be a game-by-game proposition. And when it happens is anyone's guess.
“We wanted to get on a roll,” Jackson said. “I thought maybe we had a start, and we didn't. We're right back to square one.”