Reporting from Atlanta — The trip ended amid a fireball of tension instead of a blaze of glory, the Lakers falling again, badly, in a month that finally ended, perhaps the best thing they could have said about it.
It's becoming redundant to note, but the Lakers lacked inspiration, among other things, in a 109-92 loss Wednesday to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
It's also becoming routine for Kobe Bryant to look at it all with disdain, the latest chapter ready to be edited after the Lakers finished 2-3 on their five-game trip and 9-6 in March, their most losses in any month this season.
Late in the game, his team down 16, Bryant spiked the ball after Jordan Farmar was called for a backcourt violation.
Then he stood alone at the end of the bench during a timeout, hands on his hips. With a swipe of his hand, he angrily knocked what appeared to be a water bottle off a chair at the end of the bench.
He sat with a towel draped over his shoulders for the final 2:32, staring vacantly down at his feet or at the game itself for the last meaningless minutes.
Bryant cursed at the team in the locker room after the game, airing his frustration with the Lakers' lack of defense, then talked to reporters in a monotone.
"We're not playing well defensively," he said. "This trip, it's been consistently bad, so we have to get back to work. We've got to keep moving forward."
The Lakers allowed the Hawks to shoot 54.2%. Four of the five Hawks starters made at least half their shots.
"Yeah, it's hard to digest," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers (54-21) have other minor issues. They're only 1 1/2 games ahead of Orlando (52-22) for the NBA's second-best record. They are four games ahead of Dallas (50-25) in the Western Conference.
Jackson has tried just about everything, even making the starters show up for a video session Tuesday after canceling practice for the rest of the team.
"We wanted to talk a little bit about not being desperate — You have the dominance, just keep weighing in on a team, keep pounding them down until the fact is they crumble instead of making it look like we're settling for home-run shots or hero shots," Jackson said.
Instead, Pau Gasol had only five shots through three quarters, some of it his own doing because of four turnovers, most of them in the post. He finished with 16 points on five-for-10 shooting.
Bryant had 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting. Derek Fisher had another poor night, scoring four points on one-for-six shooting. Lamar Odom had seven points on three-for-nine shooting.
Answers weren't easy to find.
Perhaps the Lakers are lagging without Andrew Bynum, who might not return for another 10 days because of a strained left Achilles' tendon, Jackson said.
"We miss him," Jackson said. "We miss his abilities out there."
The Lakers' reserves were again heavily outscored, this time by a 48-22 margin.
On Monday, they were outscored by the New Orleans reserves, 42-12, prompting Jackson to say their play "makes me want to throw up sometimes."
The Hawks (48-26) are 4-0 against Boston but were 0-6 against the Lakers, Orlando and Cleveland until an 86-84 victory over the Magic last Wednesday.
Then the Lakers came to town and Joe Johnson had 25 points and eight assists. Josh Smith had 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Not even Khloe Kardashian could figure out the Lakers.
"What is up with them?" Lamar Odom's wife asked via Twitter. "Maybe saving themselves for the playoffs??"
Maybe. Won't know for another 2 1/2 weeks.