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BILL PLASCHKE

Oh no, this is not how the Lakers needed to start the postseason

Looking much like they did down the stretch of the regular season, the Lakers give off troubling signs in loss to Hornets.

April 17, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Hornets point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 33 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds and four steals, gets ready to pass after drawing the Lakers' defense to him on a drive down the lane on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
Hornets point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 33 points, 14 assists,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

No they didn't.

No, the Lakers did not just spend the first hours of the 2011 postseason drifting around their downtown gym as if yawning through a Sunday morning parks league.

No, they did not just glance up at the scoreboard around mid-afternoon to discover themselves thoroughly whipped in their postseason opener by the thoroughly outmanned New Orleans Hornets.

And, no, no, no, Lamar Odom just not just say this was a good thing.

"This could be the best thing to happen to our team," Odom said Sunday after the Lakers lost to the Hornets, 109-100, in front of mixture of shock and boos at Staples Center.

Photos: Lakers vs. Hornets Game 1

No they didn't. And no, this wasn't.

Walking your first postseason mile with the same stumbling gait that marked your final regular-season lap is not a good thing. Beginning your annual two-month postseason journey by unpacking the sort of fears that could cut that journey short — from Pau Gasol's melting to Kobe Bryant's gunning to Derek Fisher's slowing — is not a good thing.

The Lakers, who swept the Hornets in four games in the regular season, are still going to win this first-round playoff series, and they could still quite possibly do it in five. But did they really need the injury risks of an extra game? Did they really need to give some of these old guys more work?

Lakers-Hornets box score

I mean, speaking for everyone watching with jaws agape as the smaller Hornets outscored the Lakers by 18 points in the paint while somebody named Aaron Gray scored a dozen points … c'mon.

"Yeah, it is dangerous, absolutely," Bryant admitted.

The afternoon began with Ron Artest casually throwing up a brick as if this were a scrimmage. The afternoon ended with the Lakers casually leaving the floor before the final buzzer as if, well, this were a scrimmage.

Fans were disgustedly waving their hands at the court and booing. Hornets were jumping on each other's back and celebrating. June never felt so far away, and a calendar of past playoff series' confirmed it.

Poll: Are you still confident that the Lakers can win it all?

Since Phil Jackson came to the Lakers in 1999, each of their five championship runs was started with an inspiring victory in the postseason opener. These opening wins, energetic and powerful triumphs over the likes of Sacramento, Portland (twice), Utah and Oklahoma City, planted the seeds for constant talk about the Lakers' ability to shrug off their regular-season malaise by simply flipping a switch.

On Sunday, they were both unwilling and unable to find that switch, and the murkiness was unsettling.

Nowhere did it seem darker than on a jump ball in the final three minutes with the Lakers trailing by four. It was the Lakers' strength against the Hornets' bench. It was Andrew Bynum against Gray.

Lakers database: All things Lakers

Bynum lost the tap, the Hornets quickly scored, the Lakers were never closer again.

"I'm disappointed, stunned, surprised, and we're the ones responsible," said Gasol. "We have to own up to that."

Good, because it started with him, this guy who shot 70% while averaging a double-double against the Hornets during the regular season. Gasol was a tough guy then, but by the time Sunday afternoon ended, he was again epitomizing the S-word after he made just one more shot than Trey Johnson, going two for nine with eight points and six rebounds.

He softly disappeared early when it became obvious that Bryant was not going to have the patience to fight through the crowded lane to get him the ball. He remained softly quiet after a late first-half collision with DJ Mbenga caused a bloody gash under his left eye, playing the rest of the game with a fresh bandage and renewed tentativeness.

By the time the game ended, Bryant had taken more shots — 26 — than any three teammates combined, and Gasol admitted it affected him.

"I let that get to me a little bit, I can't let that happen," said Gasol, adding, "I've got to make myself available whether the ball is coming or not, and I can't get discouraged if the ball is not coming."

Odom, while not mentioning Bryant by name, added, "We didn't get guys involved in the game … Everyone who is in this locker room, we have to use them."

When asked the usual questions about the disparity in shots — Bryant took nine shots in the fourth quarter even though he missed six straight — Kobe gave the usual answer. If he doesn't do it, who will?

"The effort wasn't there, and I'm not going to wait around if it isn't, especially in the playoffs," Bryant said.

Blame him early. Don't blame him late. But, really, this time, you can blame them all. Blame Fisher for his inability to even slow Chris PauI, blame a bench that was outscored, 39-21, and even blame Jackson for failing to inspire his team in a postseason opener for the first time in years.

It's all fixable for now. But still, Sunday could be epitomized by the image of Bryant laying on the floor on his stomach after colliding with a courtside chair, kicking up his legs in pain.

It was just a sore neck. Kobe was fine. But the sight made you sweat, and the thoughts turned your stomach, and you certainly wouldn't want to see it again any time soon.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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