San Antonio forward Antonio McDyess, right, gets past Lakers guard Kobe… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The importance of the day became obvious when Jerry Buss showed up for the Lakers' shoot-around, a rare morning appearance for a team owner who always seems to know when to show his cards.
He might have sensed the need to remind everybody that he's watching, and waiting, for his $90-million payroll to pay dividends in a mostly uneven season.
Several hours later, he could be seen in his luxury suite, his chin often perched on his right hand as the scene unfolded below him.
And what a scene it was, though not the one Buss would have wanted.
The Lakers came back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit against the San Antonio Spurs, only to lose on a buzzer-beating tip-in by Antonio McDyess, 89-88, Thursday at Staples Center.
Tim Duncan's off-balance jump shot was off the rim, but McDyess slipped in front of Lamar Odom under the basket. The Spurs mobbed him at halfcourt, celebrating perhaps their biggest victory of the season.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson walked off the court before the referees confirmed via replay that McDyess tipped in the shot with barely one-tenth of a second left.
Odom's three-pointer with a minute left and Pau Gasol's free throws with 22.7 seconds left gave the Lakers an 88-87 lead, but the Spurs had three offensive rebounds in their final possession.
Manu Ginobili was short on a three-point attempt and McDyess was there for a rebound. Tony Parker missed a seven-foot floater and Ron Artest couldn't quite squeeze the rebound, the ball floating out of bounds.
Spurs ball with 4.6 seconds left.
Duncan's miss then led to McDyess' tip.
"Too many opportunities at the end of the game," Jackson said. "Four attempts cost us. It was a good game. Defensively we played well."
Odom took the blame, saying he got caught moving toward Duncan and not boxing out McDyess.
"You lose a game in the final seconds, it hurts a little bit more," he said.
The Spurs (41-8) came into the night with the NBA's best overall and road records, despite Gregg Popovich's posturing beforehand that the Lakers (34-16) were still the best team in the Western Conference.
Kobe Bryant shot poorly, scoring 16 points on five-for-18 shooting. However, he just missed a triple-double, with 10 assists and nine rebounds.
"Not a good shooting night for him," Jackson said. "He'll be better."
Beforehand, Jackson claimed this game to be more important than Sunday's loss to Boston, saying "It's all about your conference and it's about winning your conference."
The Lakers are now 71/2 games behind the Spurs in the West.
Andrew Bynum had 10 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists after sitting out Tuesday's game because of a bone bruise in his left knee.
The Lakers trailed going into the fourth quarter, 66-63, unable to get Bryant on track (four-for-13 shooting) or make a three-pointer (one for 10 at the time).
They were quickly down eight in the quarter but steadily moved back into the game.
It wasn't enough, despite an energetic and somewhat erratic game from Ron Artest, who had 13 points and played 41 minutes.
Parker had 21 points. Ginobili had 14 points and eight assists.
The Lakers made only two of 14 three-point attempts (14.3%).
Not the night the Lakers envisioned. Not the night Buss would have visualized either.