Lakers forward Matt Barnes fouls New Orleans forward Trevor Ariza on a driving… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers showed up later than their fans Wednesday, a stunner on its own.
But they avoided another indignity despite a mountain of ominous signs, managing to hold off the New Orleans Hornets, 87-78, in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs.
Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant had unbelievably bad nights, but the Lakers still evened the best-of seven series at Staples Center.
If not for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, they'd be morosely pondering a two-game deficit on their Thursday afternoon flight to New Orleans, where Games 3 and 4 take place this weekend.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson might want to bring along some more sage to burn. The inconsistency that plagued the Lakers throughout the regular season continued to linger. Another spiritual cleansing might be in order.
How bad were they?
At the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Bryant, Gasol and Derek Fisher were a combined six-for-25 shooting.
As a reminder, the Hornets played without David West, their second-best player and two-time All-Star forward.
Bynum had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Odom had 16 points, enough to push back the Hornets ? for now.
Not to be ignored, Ron Artest had another solid game, taking home 15 points, six rebounds and the shot that allowed Lakers fans to breathe, a three-pointer that put them up 84-74 with 40.9 seconds to play.
Even Jackson was perplexed.
"Who knows how we're going to react in the next game?" he said, sighing.
The Lakers will have to turn inward and look at their top two players. Bryant had 11 points on three-for-10 shooting. Gasol had eight points on two-for-10 shooting and only five rebounds in 36 minutes.
Bryant had an excuse. He was more of a facilitator on offense and had his hands full with Chris Paul on defense. He barely kept alive a streak of double-digit scoring in playoff games (now 151 consecutive games, 28 shy of Michael Jordan's record).
But Gasol was somehow worse than a Game 1 misadventure in which he made two of nine shots and scored eight points.
"He's going to make plays for us even when he doesn't score but we'd like to have his offense out there," Jackson said. "It makes it a lot easier for us."
Said Gasol: "I don't expect that I'll continue to shoot at such a low percentage."
Neither coach seemed pleased with the referees.
"Who knows what refereeing will be like in the next game?" said Jackson, seemingly irritated that Gasol and Bynum were fouled often without being rewarded free-throw attempts. "They may tighten it up and we may play an all-together different type of game."
Hornets Coach Monty Williams didn't like that center Emeka Okafor was in foul trouble a second consecutive game.
"If I answer it the way I want to, I'm going to get fined," he said.
There's one question that can't be asked enough: Where would the Lakers be without Odom? He made eight of 12 shots and covered for Gasol's lack of scoring.
Bynum actually outdid Odom, making eight of 11. As if to demonstrate his versatility, Bynum engaged in a three-point shooting contest with assistant coaches Brian Shaw and Craig Hodges before the game. Bynum actually made a few too ? though he didn't win.
He did better in the game itself.
Paul wasn't as spectacular for the Hornets as he was in Game 1, finishing with 20 points and nine assists.
Bryant had some bad moments defending Paul, fouling him twice on three-point attempts, but Paul was less of a factor than his 33-point, 14-assist effort in the opener.
"They tried to shrink the court on me," Paul said. "They didn't want me to wiggle and dance with the ball as much, and it worked for them to a certain extent."
Before the game, Jackson showed off some gallows humor, recapping how he planned to wear a different championship ring every game.
"I hope to get through all the rings before we're eliminated from the playoffs," he said.
He has 12 that are wearable, he said.
Nothing could be guaranteed before Game 2. Nothing still can.