Reporting from New Orleans — This late in the season, this far into March, the Lakers continue to give reasons to scrap championship-parade plans.
The runaway leaders in the Western Conference on Monday tossed another clunker onto a growing pile of them this month, falling to New Orleans, a team that was officially eliminated from playoff contention last week, in another uninspiring effort.
Chris Paul and Darren Collison ran circles around the Lakers in a 108-100 Hornets victory at New Orleans Arena, leading to a seething outburst from Kobe Bryant, who punched a chair on the bench in the final minute and was still simmering half an hour later in a postgame interview that lasted all of 42 seconds.
Bryant obviously didn't like what he saw unfolding in front of him. He had 31 points and Pau Gasol had 26 points and 22 rebounds, but there was almost nothing else to appease the Lakers' superstar, in case the brief postgame transcript didn't prove the point.
What's happening out there in games such as this one and last Friday in Oklahoma City?
"Just didn't play well," Bryant said.
He seemed upset at the end. What was going through his mind?
"Just didn't play well," he repeated.
How quickly can the Lakers turn it around with the playoffs starting in fewer than three weeks?
"We don't have a choice," he said.
Is he frustrated? Disappointed? He answered no to both.
What needed to be done Monday to get a victory?
"Had to play better," Bryant said.
On offense or defense?
"A combination of all."
Why so few words?
"For my own good," he said.
He was asked whether he would provide more insight Tuesday and walked away from a semicircle of reporters.
In the final minute of the game, Bryant was called for a foul on Paul in the backcourt and yelled at referee Mark Lindsay. A timeout was called with 38.1 seconds to play, which is when Bryant punched the chair as he approached the Lakers' bench. After the game, he briefly hugged Paul and walked directly to the locker room.
"Nobody likes to lose," Gasol said. "He's our leader, he's our main guy and we hate losing. I'm sure that's part of his frustration, that's where it's coming from."
Bryant made 10 of 18 shots and also had six assists and five rebounds, but the Lakers fell to 2-2 on their last long road trip of the season, the final game of the five-game trek coming Wednesday against a young, ever-improving Atlanta team.
The Lakers now have curiously one-sided losses this month against Charlotte, 98-83, and Oklahoma City, 91-75, not to mention Monday's blemish.
There were plenty of areas that could have set off Bryant.
"He was getting double- and triple-teamed and was getting the ball out to guys for shots and we just didn't shoot the three-point shot well at all," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers made only seven of a whopping 29 three-point attempts (24.1%), a percentage and volume that didn't thrill Jackson.
"If you're not making the three, you've got to back inside or you've got to penetrate off the dribble," Jackson said.
Ron Artest made one of eight from three-point range. Derek Fisher made one of seven. Bryant made a more respectable two of five.
The Lakers were run up and down the court by Collison and Paul, who also used screen-and-rolls to perfection, Paul in particular.
Paul had 15 points and 13 assists in his fourth game back from a 25-game absence because of torn cartilage in his left knee. Collison, a rookie from UCLA, had 17 points and three assists.
One play said it all. In the final seconds of the third quarter, Collison scored on a driving layup over the 7-foot Gasol, also drawing a foul on Gasol for what turned into a three-point play. The Hornets led after three, 77-63.
"When we don't play defense and do the intangibles as far as basketball is concerned, it's unacceptable," Lamar Odom said. "Communication is lacking, the chemistry for some reason is not clicking. If we don't do the intangibles, we need to depend on our shooting to win games, and we're not always going to shoot well."
The Lakers' reserves were outscored by those of the Hornets, 42-12, and the Lakers didn't exactly dominate in the paint despite Gasol's point total, outscoring the Hornets down low, 42-34.
Bad night all around for the Lakers, who could easily go 2-3 on this trip.