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The Lakers lack a finishing touch

HELENE ELLIOTT

Kobe Bryant's last-gasp shot misses, but a loss to the Toronto Raptors was dictated earlier than that.

January 25, 2010|Helene Elliott

The Lakers couldn't finish off a game they thought they had firmly in command, ultimately done in by a surprising foul called on Pau Gasol with 1.2 seconds left and an imprecise inbounds pass by Luke Walton to Kobe Bryant that led not to Bryant's familiar last-second magic but a shot that rimmed and went out.

The Lakers were defeated by a bad team Sunday and surrendered the distinction of having the NBA's best record, but their 106-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors was dictated well before Gasol was whistled for pushing Hedo Turkoglu in a crowd beneath the basket.

Turkoglu, an island of calm in a crazed crowd at Air Canada Centre, made two free throws to give Toronto the lead, and even Bryant -- who came within one assist of his 17th career triple-double -- could not erase that.

"I saw him bobble it a little bit and that made it kind of tough. It still had a chance. It looked pretty good to me," guard Jordan Farmar said of the lead-up to Bryant's 30-foot-plus jumper.

"He's the best finisher in the game. That's what he does. We're happy to have him in those situations. We just don't want to put him there too much."

The Lakers put Bryant in that precarious spot because they couldn't hold the 10-point lead they built late in the third quarter. They turned the ball over five times in the third quarter, three times in the fourth, and 13 times overall. The Raptors (23-22) transformed those turnovers into 20 points.

Andrew Bynum, soaking his feet in a bucket of ice, recited Bryant's statistics -- a career-high 16 rebounds to go with nine assists and 27 points -- as well as Gasol's 22 points and nine rebounds and his own nine-rebound, 21-point performance. It wasn't just the ice that chilled his mood.

"There's no way we should have lost this game," Bynum said. "We had the scoring. We just can't stop them."

And so they've started this eight-game trip with two losses in their first three games, including a spotty effort until the fourth quarter of their victory over the New York Knicks on Friday.

Their next three opponents -- Washington, Indiana and Philadelphia -- are a cumulative 44-86, but there's no guarantee L.A. will have an easy game before it faces Boston next Sunday. The Raptors should have been an easy victim and weren't.

The Lakers' inconsistencies cost them a game Sunday they had every chance to put away easily. Farmar said they played "all right," adding that they "didn't do the things down the stretch that we needed to do."

But even he acknowledged the outcome should not have come down to the final minutes of a game they dominated for long stretches.

"It was pretty strange," said Farmar, who had 17 points in more than 21 minutes. "We felt like we had control. I felt like we had control, at least, for the majority of the game. They had little runs here and there, but we would come back with a run of our own.

"It seemed like we were in control, but they kept fighting, they kept pushing, so we've got to give them credit."

Do the Raptors deserve more credit than the Lakers deserve blame?

Bynum emphasized their failures on defense.

"We had a definite opportunity to close them out in the second period and we didn't do it," he said. "We should have hit the gas.

"They got back into the game and they became confident and in the third quarter that really showed. They were attacking the basket. I was trying to stop it."

They couldn't stop Andrea Bargnani from getting 14 of his team-high 22 points in the second half or prevent Chris Bosh from getting 18 points and 13 rebounds, his 32nd double-double of the season.

So the Lakers roll onward, though Bryant said he's not concerned about their having lost six of their last 10 games away from Staples Center. It's not where they are that matters as much as who they are and what they do.

"I think we just have to get better in several areas -- our focus and what our mentality is when we step onto the court, and do what we do best individually to help us as a group," he said. "I think we kind of need to buckle down on those types of things."

Better to buckle down than to buckle.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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