Lakers power forward Pau Gasol tries to stop Clippers power forward Blake… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)
The Lakers looked at their next seven games, a telling point in their schedule, and flinched as the red, white and blue of Clipper Nation went ballistic with joy around them.
The textbook way to start a tough stretch of the season wasn't exactly demonstrated by the two-time defending champions Sunday.
They lost to the Clippers, 99-92, and that wasn't all. They lost their composure. And a 12-point lead in the third quarter. And their seven-game winning streak. And Lamar Odom with 5.7 seconds to play. And Ron Artest too.
Blake Griffin was so strong in the second half that Kobe Bryant said the Clippers rookie "punked us."
"He just ran through us," he said. "We didn't put up much of a fight."
No argument here.
Good thing for the Lakers, they have plenty of time to rest and reassess. Or not.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, the bundle of speed that almost ran them out of the first round last season, comes to Staples Center on Monday. Then the Lakers head to Dallas and Denver, followed by a home game against Utah, a presumed laugher against Sacramento and a home game against Boston to finish out the month.
They weren't exactly ecstatic with the way they began their end-of-the-month run.
"We have a tendency all the time, and I don't understand it, but we get up and we get kind of comfortable out there," said Andrew Bynum, one of the few Lakers who showed something Sunday (18 points, 13 rebounds). "We've got to change that."
Bynum also didn't like how his team was pummeled in points in the paint, 44-34. The Lakers should win that category "100%" of the time, he said.
The Lakers (30-12) were also outrebounded and outmuscled, part of the reason Odom grabbed Griffin's jersey after Griffin bulled into him while getting position after a free throw in the final seconds.
Griffin wasn't pleased with the jersey grab and neither was Baron Davis, who started jawing at Odom, which led to some seriously harsh words between Davis and Odom as four players got ejected (Griffin, Davis, Odom and, curiously, Artest, whose apparent crime was trying to pull Odom away from the fray).
"Maybe I overreacted, but I just felt like if you're up nine with the free throw going through, the ram in the back at that point …" Odom said. "Any other time I get it — play hard and play strong, whatever. But the ram in the back, I don't get it. You're up nine. You've got it [won]. I'm not telling you you've got to stop playing hard, but if you ram me in my back, you're going to get a reaction out of me."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson also said Griffin was being overaggressive.
"He was just running up guys' backs," he said. "Guys get eventually tired of it."
Jackson wasn't quite done, questioning why Artest was thrown out as well.
"I don't know how they make their decisions. Whimsically, I think," Jackson said of the referees. "I can see Lamar and Griffin or whatever, but Ron … that was ridiculous."
As usual, Artest pretended like he didn't know what happened on the court, inventing a fantasy world after the game in which he made dinner plans with the referees.
"I told them, 'Let's go get some sushi after.' They're going to meet me right now," he said.
And with that, the Lakers' winning streak was crumpled up and tossed to the side. It's up to them to get another one started.
With pro football close to ending its season, the Lakers have plenty of early Sunday afternoon games on the horizon.
Anything they'll do differently on such occasions?
"We kid Pau [Gasol] a lot about his Spanish tendencies and that's about it," Jackson said. "They don't wake up 'til noon and a lot of things don't happen until eight, nine, 10 o'clock at night in Spain as far as eating. We told him [Saturday] to go home and go to bed early, and that's the one guy that we know we have difficulty getting organized and ready in the morning."
Gasol had a poor game Sunday, making four of nine shots, scoring only 13 points and getting pushed aside often by Griffin.
Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony lead the voting for All-Star forwards in the Western Conference.
Picking the reserves, however, will be tricky.
"What are you going to do? There's a zillion of these forwards out there that are playing very well in the West," Jackson said. "It will be an 'eeny meeny.' "
Jackson mentioned Griffin, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love. He didn't mention Gasol or Odom, declining to talk specifically about Odom's All-Star chances because he felt it had been discussed too often in recent weeks. (Jackson can't vote for Odom or Gasol because coaches can't vote for their own players as reserves.)
Love and Griffin play for teams that are well below .500, which should be considered when coaches select the All-Star reserves in a few weeks, Jackson said.
"You have to take into account a team's record," he said. "For that reason, I think [ Tyson] Chandler is an obvious choice for a backup center role because of the influence he's had on the Dallas defense."
The All-Star Game is Feb. 20 at Staples Center.