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Lakers Still Off on Road

Bryant matches McGrady with 38 points, but Orlando hands L.A. its seventh loss in a row away from home.

November 28, 2002|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. — In the aftermath of another Laker loss, Kobe Bryant was defiant again.

Shaquille O'Neal sat not far away, with his elbows on his thighs, in this town he calls home, and said the Lakers need to be better, soon.

Phil Jackson, 20 minutes before, had said he was disappointed by the effort in Wednesday night's 112-102 loss to the Orlando Magic, a game played frantically by Bryant and Tracy McGrady -- each scored 38 points, most on each other's heads.

But only Bryant was outwardly angry, at his teammates, at what the Lakers' first month has become, at loss after loss in pursuit of a fourth consecutive NBA title.

The Lakers are 5-11. They have lost seven consecutive road games for the first time in 28 seasons. They are 0-for-Florida after going 0-for-Texas last week, and they continue to drift with Golden State at the bottom of the Pacific Division, and it might be amusing if it weren't so near December.

"We can still win 71," Jackson said, jamming square humor into round gloom. "But we'll have to turn it around."

O'Neal, who scored 28 points in 36 minutes, was supposed to solve this, but he's a work in progress, and then so are the Lakers, and in the meantime it's getting worse before it gets better.

In the game, Bryant stood opposite McGrady, two of the league's prolific scorers, Bryant seemingly carrying the weight of the Lakers on every jumper, McGrady not quite so anchored.

"It had nothing to do with him playing defense," Bryant said. "It had nothing to do with us battling. It had everything to do with us trying to win the game. That's the reason I play the game. Guys were out of rhythm. Shots weren't falling. Shaq's out of the game. I can't sit back and let these guys have a 10-0 run on us, stay in the triangle and swing the ball around and miss wide-open shots. That can't happen. I gotta get to the free-throw line, I gotta be more aggressive, try to put an end to their run."

They weren't Jackson's favorite moments, probably, but they were unforgettable anyway; McGrady posting Bryant on the left block, holding him off with his left arm, begging for the basketball and getting it; Bryant, already with the ball on the right wing, nose to nose with McGrady, measuring his first step.

In an enthralling sequence in the second quarter, McGrady faked left, Bryant went with him and then stumbled, leaving McGrady open for a 17-foot turn-around jumper that fell as the crowd gasped and then roared.

Bryant took the ball back, rocked 20 feet from the rim, stepped left and then went baseline, where he rose up for a two-fisted dunk and screamed, having left McGrady at the three-point arc.

"Kinda fun to watch," Magic Coach Doc Rivers said.

Bryant said he did not play for offensive vengeance. Other than the dunk.

"I felt that was totally necessary," he said. "He made a nice move, I slipped, the homeboys don't care if you slip or not. So, I had to go down there and retaliate."

In all, Bryant took 31 shots and made 14. McGrady was 12 for 28. O'Neal, defended by the likes of Shawn Kemp, Andrew DeClercq and Pat Burke, took 20 shots and made 11.

"Tracy is one of the top two players in the league," O'Neal said. "Him and Kobe.... They are the two best. No one is even close. The rest are in the clouds."

Said Brian Shaw: "It doesn't have anything to do with Kobe or Shaq. It's the rest of us."

Sometimes it has to be about the theater, Bryant's heart in the right place if not his head.

Afraid Bryant had gone too far, Jackson sat him for two minutes late in the third quarter.

None of it really worked. The Lakers never led. O'Neal fatigued. And while Bryant blasted them, Rick Fox made six of eight field-goal attempts, Derek Fisher was four for eight and Shaw was three for six.

"I was just trying to keep us in the ballgame," Bryant said.

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