Since Mike D’Antoni took over as Lakers coach and things have gone oh-so-wrong, he has preached that a gut-check type of win could do wonders to help fix his broken team.
He might have thought he had it when the Lakers beat Golden State last month. Los Angeles proceeded to win its next game over New York on Christmas Day at Staples Center. It was the Lakers’ fifth consecutive win, and it looked like things had turned around permanently for this collection of superstars. Their record was even at 14-14 and the playoffs — along with a possible title run — seemed to be beckoning.
Not quite, as his Lakers team headed for San Antonio on Wednesday night in the throes of a four-game losing streak.
Again, it looked like he and the Lakers were on their way to that spirited comeback win he wants so badly, but the Spurs held off a furious L.A. rally in the Alamo City for a 108-105 win. It was the Lakers’ sixth loss in seven games since beating the Knicks.
They’ve dropped to 15-20 with five consecutive defeats, and their playoff hopes are starting to morph into nightmares of being a lottery team.
San Antonio (28-10) built a 17-point lead in the third quarter, and despite 24 points from Tony Parker, the Lakers erased all but three points of that margin. San Antonio built it back up to 10, then L.A. forced five Spurs’ misses and four turnovers, and with 2:56 left in the game the Lakers trailed 105-102. But they became the Lakers again and managed just one basket the rest of the way. A promising comeback attempt turned into just another loss.
Just another loss the Lakers can’t afford.
“I’m proud of their effort. They fought,” said D’Antoni when asked if the good-but-futile comeback brought a smile to his face. “You can see us getting some traction, but no, there’s not much to smile about. We’re a long ways away from a smile.”
There actually were some outstanding moments through the game for a team playing without frontcourt mainstays Dwight Howard (shoulder injury), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (hip injury) all out indefinitely. Reserve forward Earl Clark — who had been a DNP 24 times this season — led the team in rebounds with 13 and added 22 points. Kobe Bryant scored 27 and Metta World Peace had 23; but all three missed possible game-changing shots in the last three minutes of the game.
Bryant says he’s gets nothing out of comebacks that continue to fall short. (The Lakers are 1-12 in games in which they trailed at the end of the first quarter). He’s just fed-up with the losses, as was plain to see when he hit a pair of consecutive 3-pointers but walked to the bench with a scowl on his face.
“We just lost five in a row,” he said. “There’s not much you can take out of it. It’s self-explanatory.”
The Spurs, of course, were happy with the victory, but not pleased with their overall performance against a struggling Lakers team.
“We kind of stopped,” said Manu Ginobili, who scored 19 points. “We’re getting used to playing faster and we just didn’t do it. We were playing one-on-one instead of doing what we do best, and that’s to penetrate, kick and pass the ball.
“We were up by (17) and we just messed up the whole game. Like I said before, it was disappointing to see the team play like that, but at least we got the win.”
Winning is something that hasn’t happened often for the Lakers in 2012-13.
Their 15-20 record ties them for the fourth-worst start in Los Angeles franchise history, and hopes for a postseason berth get slimmer with each loss. To make the playoffs, they’d probably have to win 32 to 35 of the next 47 — and even that’s no guarantee. But if there’s a silver lining to any of this, it’s that the last time the Lakers started 15-20 — in 2002-03 they made it all the way to the Western Conference semifinals before losing — to San Antonio.