CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was buried toward the end of Steve Nash’s thorough explanation of what happened Friday, and it was exactly how close the Lakers came to complete basketball anarchy.
“That would have been pretty devastating to lose this game,” he said so quietly in front of his locker that you had to be leaning very far forward to hear him.
The latest turn in the season that won’t straighten was the Lakers falling behind by 20 to the Charlotte Bobcats but coming back to win, 100-93, at Time Warner Cable Arena.
The victory almost seemed like a loss and didn’t escape Kobe Bryant, who used the word “irritated” four times to describe how he felt after the Lakers squeezed past the team with the NBA’s worst record.
And this from Coach Mike D’Antoni: “Hopefully this will be a wake-up call. Again. For the 80th time.”
The Lakers never play well here, and Friday was no different.
First, the “improvements,” the Lakers moving to 4-2 on their seven-game Grammy trip and 3-5 on the road against the Bobcats in the expansion team’s brief history.
Now for the rest.
The Lakers (24-27) trailed by 12 at halftime. The Bobcats, 23rd in the league in scoring, were running them off the court with 14 fastbreak points.
“We were totally sucking,” Dwight Howard said.
Bryant was scoreless and had two assists at halftime, his teammates ruining many of his passes by missing open shots or declining to take them.
He didn’t like to hear a reporter’s assertion that other teammates “got going early” and Bryant sealed the game with 14 fourth-quarter points.
“When did we get it going early? Down 20? In the third quarter?” Bryant said. “That’s not getting it going early at all. At all.”
The Lakers got serious only after the Bobcats took a 71-51 lead on Kemba Walker’s free throws with 5 minutes 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
A 49-22 run the rest of the way delivered the victory, including 31-15 in the fourth quarter.
After Jodie Meeks’ three-pointer put the Lakers up a point with 3:02 left, Bryant pump-faked twice against Gerald Henderson before banking in a 10-footer.
Then Bryant again pump-faked twice before shooting, was fouled by Henderson and made two free throws for a 96-91 lead. He completed the Lakers’ scoring with a fastbreak layup and two more free throws, giving him 20 points (and eight assists).
Happy days weren’t here again, though.
“Just irritated. Very irritated. That’s all,” Bryant said, repeating the same phrase a minute later.
He was that embarrassed by a 20-point deficit even though the Bobcats (11-38) always seem to make the Lakers panic.
In fact, the Lakers needed to overcome an 18-point third-quarter deficit to beat Charlotte in December, 101-100, at Staples Center.
Danger was in the air even before tipoff.
“We’re playing, aren’t we? There’s a danger,” D’Antoni said jokingly. “If they play the national anthem, we’re in danger.”
But the Bobcats eventually fell to 8-9 against the Lakers, despite 20 points each from Byron Mullens and Henderson.
Meeks had 14 points off the bench and Earl Clark had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lakers finish their trip Sunday in Miami, the matchup that many predicted for the NBA Finals serving as merely another home game for the Heat (33-14) at this point.
Can the Lakers even find it intriguing after such a struggle against lowly Charlotte?
“Yeah, sure,” said Nash, who had 17 points and seven assists. “I think it’s different obviously — no Jordan [Hill], no Pau [Gasol], Dwight’s not himself yet. It’s not quite what people thought as far as Lakers-Heat, but we still have a great challenge and a great chance to go in and try to beat them at their place.”