Kobe Bryant was back and Pau Gasol was too, and it was like those other 69 games never happened.
That’s entirely untrue.
The Lakers lost to the hopeless Washington Wizards, 103-100, ruining Reunion Night for the 2012-13 team Friday at Staples Center.
They also blew an easy chance at standings separation from Utah and remained 11/2 games ahead of the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But what’s the big rush to the playoffs if the Lakers can’t even win at home against the Wizards? After leading by 18 in the final minute of the second quarter?
Coach Mike D’Antoni was fuming afterward, delivering a lengthy rant on the Lakers’ collapse.
“This is a good team that for whatever reason just can’t get collectively, mentally … get stimulated to do it every time,” D’Antoni said before scoffing at the Lakers’ huddle breaks.
“We put our hands in, and you guys have probably seen it, we say ‘Championship.’ God, that’s laughable. Championship? You’ve got to be kidding me. Until they understand the importance of every possession offensively and defensively and they’ve got to come out with some determination to be a good basketball team, then we’re just fooling ourselves. We’re just making a sham-mockery out of it or whatever you say it is.”
D’Antoni had other things to say after the Lakers’ record fell to 36-34.
“What happened was we didn’t play hard enough,” he said. “We think we can just figure stuff out and just point. Trevor Ariza’s got 12 attempts at threes and he’s wide open. That’s inexcusable. It’s just a matter of lapses or gambling or ‘I’m not going to play hard tonight because we’ll just outscore them.’
“I can’t explain it, but every time we get up 16, it’s like, ‘Well, we’re really good and we don’t have to play hard.’ And we start messing with the game and start messing with not moving the ball. You start messing with, ‘I’m just going to go one-on-one every time,’ you start messing with the basketball gods and they get you. The ball will roll around and go in for them and it’ll roll around and go out for us because we’re messing with the game.
“If we don’t change that, well, obviously we won’t make the playoffs, but even if we do, then we’ll get blown out in the playoffs.”
The Lakers’ protagonists were in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 30, but the team was far from taking center stage.
Dwight Howard had a very efficient 20 points and 15 rebounds but did not have a shot in the fourth quarter, a pattern that happens too often to ignore.
Howard’s final shot came with three minutes left in the third quarter, a layup that made him eight for nine. It’s where he finished.
Adding injury to insult, Antawn Jamison sustained a sprained right wrist. X-rays were negative and he’ll have an MRI on Saturday. He was hurt after his dunk attempt was blocked by Kevin Seraphin with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
Gasol looked about as advertised, missing eight of 10 shots while basically trying to get back in shape after sitting out 20 games because of a tear inside the bottom of his right foot. He had four points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes.
Bryant was in facilitator mode most of the night after missing the better part of three games because of a sprained left ankle. He had 21 points on eight-for-18 shooting and also had 11 assists.
He tried to turn up the offense in the fourth quarter, and had some success, though his 11-footer with 5.9 seconds left rimmed out, the Lakers trailing by two at the time.
He was tight-lipped after the game, unhappy but not uncorked like his coach.
Meanwhile, Bryant’s former teammate, Ariza, made nine of 15 shots, including a noteworthy seven from three-point range.
John Wall had 24 points and 16 assists, but Ariza, guarded mainly by Bryant, was the dagger, a name Lakers fans never quite forgot and a throwback to happier times at Staples Center.