Lakers not losing ground, but time running out

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kobe had his right arm wrapped and his feet in a bucket of ice.

He admitted he was hurting.

Meanwhile, Dwight Howard was nowhere to be found.

During the game. And after.

No Pau Gasol, and never once with the lead, the Lakers came into Oklahoma City, played virtually no defense in the first half, scored no points in the last 7 minutes and dealt with Howard playing invisible for 37 minutes.

And had a chance at a victory.

If you’re interested in burying the Lakers and their playoff chances, Tuesday might be a bit soon.

If you’re looking to praise Los Angeles for turning the corner, fighting hard or any number of sports clichés about how this team is getting better, Tuesday was just another perfect night for some empty compliments.

“This is still a process for our team,” said guard Steve Nash. “We’re just trying to find ourselves still. We have a lot of improving to do.”

The Lakers lost little ground in a 122-105 loss to the Thunder, but they are again under .500 (30-31) and running out of any sort of position of leverage, and with Bryant the newest Laker to be injured, something has to get right in a hurry as they have just 21 games to go.

Bryant left 4 minutes into Tuesday’s game with what the team described as an “ulnar nerve contusion,” but what the rest of us call “getting hit on the funny bone.” He returned with 4 minutes to play in the first quarter. Bryant played 39 minutes, scored 30 points and said he was in pain throughout as he had a hard time extending his arm.

“You get hit on the nerve and it’s going to go south,” he said. “I’m going to keep playing.”

Similar to the injury he suffered earlier this month in Detroit, Bryant said Tuesday’s was about the same, but the pain never went away.

Meanwhile, Howard never showed up. He played 37 minutes, but managed just one field goal on seven shots. He did have 16 rebounds, but just six points.

Then there was Metta World Peace, who limped off the court late in the fourth quarter. Coach Mike D’Antoni said the Lakers didn’t know what the situation was, but suggested it was something to do with his foot or ankle.

Couple those injuries and the fact Gasol won’t be back for at least two more weeks, as well as the fact Howard must still be bothered by his shoulder injury, and things look bleak.

Now, look at the half of the glass that’s full.

The Lakers got within five points with just less than 7 minutes to play, all the while allowing 71 points in the first half and 48 percent shooting by Oklahoma City for the game.

Oh, and the Thunder also tied an NBA record committing just two turnovers. Yet, here the Lakers were with a chance at the end of the game.

“Obviously a slow start didn’t help,” D’Antoni said. “We missed foul shots and wide-open shots. These guys (Oklahoma City) are good. They are probably the best team in the West. We need to measure against it.”

Losers of just two games in their previous eight, the Lakers came to Oklahoma City just 3-1/2 games out of sixth place and just two games out of eighth. Now they sit four and 2-1/2 games back, respectively. The loss doesn’t hurt as much as it stifles a bit of momentum, but there are some things ahead that look a bit better.

The Lakers have a favorable stretch coming up with games against New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago and Orlando. They also have two games against Sacramento and one each against Washington and Phoenix this month.

“You can always try and find the positives,” Bryant said. “For us right now, we have to get some wins.”

The near future has that potential, even without Gasol and with a gimpy World Peace and a hurting Bryant, who said he won’t miss any time.

Yeah, he better not. Even with the arm injury, he carried the Lakers offensively Tuesday. And it looks like he’ll need to carry Howard the rest of the way, too.

“It would have helped to have Pau back,” Nash said. “But I definitely think our team is capable. We didn’t have a good performance by any means, but we still had our chances to cut the lead to two or three a couple times.”

Instead, Los Angeles missed a chance at a victory, but despite Bryant and World Peace getting hurt, this one doesn’t hurt their playoff chances.