Reporting from San Antonio — Kobe Bryant sat on the bench, his jaw clenched and eyes narrowed as the final meaningless minutes dripped off the clock.
It's never the look Lakers fans want to see.
The season lurched again for the Lakers, who suddenly can't win at home against bad teams, can't win at home against good ones and apparently can't win on the road against good teams either, a 97-82 drubbing Tuesday by the San Antonio Spurs offering the latest confirmation.
FOR THE RECORD:
Lakers: In the Dec. 29 Sports section, the game story about the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs said the Spurs ended the first quarter with a 16-2 run and a 27-18 lead and never trailed again. That is incorrect. The Spurs trailed 44-42 at the half before going on to win 97-82. —
The Lakers broke through the strangely elusive 80-point barrier, but just barely, their offense a shell of its pristine production from when they started out 8-0 seemingly eons ago.
Their scoring the last three games, all losses, looks pitifully small: 79-80-82.
Bryant was determined to carry the load but instead shot the Lakers out of the game, scoring 21 points on eight-for-27 shooting, including a span in which he missed an unsightly 13 consecutive shots at AT&T Center.
He was angry at his teammates after a pair of listless efforts last week at Staples Center. This time, he shouldered the blame.
"I couldn't put the ball in the basket and it snowballed from there," Bryant said. "It's my responsibility to make 'em. I had some really good looks, man. I've got to put those down, period."
Bryant had five turnovers and only one assist as the Lakers lost three consecutive games for the third time since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008. They ended a four-game losing streak earlier this month and could be looking at another one if they don't recover in time Wednesday at New Orleans.
Even the normally loquacious Lamar Odom was strapped for words.
"What do you want me to say?" he said with a dose of melancholy. "What do you want me to talk about? I don't mean to be disrespectful. I'd rather think before I talk. I don't want to talk off emotion."
What are your emotions?
"I'm a little confused," he said.
"What do you think?"
The way the Lakers are losing?
"Yeah," Odom responded. "I don't even know what to tell you."
Odom had nine points on three-of-nine shooting and Gasol had a single-single (nine points, nine rebounds) while making three of eight shots.
Bryant tried to force the action from the start, committing three turnovers and taking eight shots in barely seven minutes. The Spurs ended the first quarter with a 16-2 run and a 27-18 lead. They never trailed again.
The only momentum Bryant discovered was back-to-back three pointers near the midpoint of the fourth quarter. He called for the ball on the Lakers' next two possessions and missed both attempts.
He was the first player to leave the court, slinging a towel over his shoulder as the Lakers lost three consecutive games by double-digit margins for the first time since March 2007.
Coach Phil Jackson didn't seem to know which way to play Bryant's shoot-first mind-set, even contradicting himself.
He said he liked Bryant's attempt to "set a tone" but also said there should have been an effort to "slow down a little bit and get everybody involved."
Bryant continued his feisty on-court demeanor, earning his fourth technical foul in the last three games after getting tangled up with George Hill while they tried to box each other out in the second quarter. They pointed a finger in each other's face before getting separated.
Later it was Derek Fisher's turn to pick up a technical foul, the Lakers guard running all the way to halfcourt to catch up to Richard Jefferson and jaw at him after Jefferson had pushed him down while going for a rebound.
"We're all moody," Bryant said. "Fish got a tech today and he's the basketball version of Barack Obama."
Tim Duncan might have had the worst game of his career, scoring two points on one-for-seven shooting, but undersized center DeJuan Blair came up with one of his best, totaling 17 points and 15 rebounds.
Several hours before tipoff, long before another Lakers flameout, Bryant said he wanted to see more direction from teammates.
"We haven't been really pointing at anything. That's been one of the problems," he said. "We don't really get too excited about anything anymore. I'm excited about this game. I'm excited about the challenge of it. Hopefully the rest of the guys are too."
The only excitement Tuesday was from Spurs fans, whose team improved to a league-best 27-4.