PHOENIX — The Lakers need to reset their season yet again.
A third time? Fourth time? Fifth? It’s hard to keep track.
They lost a 13-point fourth-quarter lead and a game, 92-86, against the Phoenix Suns, who were tied for last in the Western Conference before Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant was a solid distributor but couldn’t finish down the stretch, his scoring touch amiss as the Lakers dropped their first foray on a seven-game Grammy trip.
They haven’t won away from Staples Center since Dec. 22. They’re now 5-16 on the road. Hardly the stuff of playoff teams.
Nothing’s been easy to predict this season, though Dwight Howard left another game after aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder when Shannon Brown blocked his shot with 6:57 to play.
It will continue to be an issue for Howard this season. Surgery would knock him out for six months, but he didn’t want to go that direction.
“I’ll try [to withstand] as much as I can, but I don’t want to cause more damage to my shoulder,” said Howard, who had nine points and 14 rebounds.
For now, the only cure is rest. Howard didn’t want to sit out a week or two to give the shoulder downtime, “but we’ll see,” he said glumly. The Lakers’ next game is Friday against Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Coach Mike D’Antoni and Pau Gasol lobbed more volleys at each other, continuing their general uneasiness stemming from Gasol’s demotion to reserve status and occasional benching in late-game situations.
Gasol complained after the Lakers’ 111-106 victory Tuesday over New Orleans, saying he was “challenged every day to keep my calm and keep my peace and not let my emotions take over my words.”
To which D’Antoni sarcastically responded before Wednesday’s tipoff: “‘All for one’ didn’t last long, did it? A 48-hour shelf life. That’s not bad. We’ll take what we can get.”
Gasol had been on board with the demotion but obviously wasn’t happy Tuesday. He couldn’t complain after Wednesday’s game. He logged plenty of time because Earl Clark was in foul trouble.
Gasol didn’t do much with the time. He had 12 points and five rebounds, and committed four turnovers in 37 minutes.
Bryant had 17 points on seven-for-16 shooting. He had nine assists but none in the fourth quarter and couldn’t turn from facilitator to scorer when it counted.
He airballed a 15-footer with 3:45 left. Then he committed a turnover and missed a three-point attempt. He scored on a drive and made a pair of free throws, but he was a little too strong on a layup attempt with 23.9 seconds to play that would have tied it.
Luis Scola made two free throws at the other end for a four-point edge, Clark missed a three-point attempt and the game was over.
“This is not like it was earlier in the year,” Bryant said. “This is a little different. We’re playing well. They got back in the game … and wound up winning the game tonight. But I’m not too concerned about it.”
The Lakers (20-26) lost almost all of an 18-point lead against New Orleans the previous night, so nobody relaxed on their bench when they went ahead by 13 early in the fourth quarter.
Sure enough, the Suns caught them at 82-82 on Jared Dudley’s three-pointer with 3:39 to play. Then they passed them.
“When you’ve got somebody down, you just need to step on them a little bit and we didn’t do it,” D’Antoni said.
The Lakers’ offense looked completely disorganized in the first half and had nine turnovers in the first quarter. Later, they unfurled a 13-point fourth quarter, the final ignominy for a team that won’t return to Los Angeles for almost two weeks.
Not a good start to the trip. Not a good season. April’s arriving very quickly for this team.