It seemed it was only a matter of time before the Lakers' tendency to waste leads and Andrew Bynum's erratic behavior would leave them at a loss.
That moment came Friday night at Staples Center, when the Lakers' heavy workload and the late-game absence of their starting center resulted in a 112-107 defeat by the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers squandered an 11-point lead in the third quarter, looking heavy-legged through pockets of sluggish play and defensive indifference while playing for the fifth time in seven days.
It didn't help that they had to play the final 11 minutes 17 seconds without Bynum after he was ejected following his second technical foul. The infraction came after Bynum made a hook shot and said something toward the Rockets' bench.
"I'm disappointed because we told him [before the start of the fourth quarter], 'You've got one technical, don't pick up your second,'" Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "He acknowledged us and went out and picked up his second when I thought he could have helped us to win the ballgame."
Kobe Bryant had 28 points and Metta World Peace chipped in a season-high 23, and it still wasn't enough for the Lakers, whose four-game winning streak came to an end.
Bryant, noticeably limping on his sore left leg late in the game, scored four points in the final minute, but it was too late. He made eight of 20 shots overall, the first time since his dreaded three-for-21 performance against New Orleans on March 31 that he made fewer than half his shots.
It's been a difficult few weeks for Bynum, who has been benched for taking an ill-advised three-pointer, fined for various transgressions and now ejected. He was also ejected after receiving two technicals March 20 during the Lakers' loss to the Rockets in Houston.
Bynum left the locker room without speaking to reporters.
Bynum's first technical Friday came late in the third quarter after he had been hacked by Houston center Samuel Dalembert. Bynum had to be restrained by teammate Josh McRoberts, and Bynum's vocal displeasure with the play earned him the technical.
Bynum finished with 19 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. Brown said the team would deal with Bynum's ejection internally but didn't anticipate it would involve any disciplinary action.
Bryant said he would discuss Bynum's behavior with him.
"The key is to find that balance," Bryant said. "You don't want him to lose that edge or lose that rage that he's been playing with We have to be patient. He's been extremely productive."
The Lakers gamely fought on without Bynum, with Matt Barnes making a three-pointer that tied the score at 99-99 with 2:31 remaining. But Houston scored nine of the next 11 points.
World Peace, who eclipsed his season high with a driving one-handed dunk midway through the third quarter, made eight of 13 shots. His performance was one of the few things that went right for the Lakers on a day when the rigors of the lockout-condensed season were already evident before the game.
Bynum sat at his locker with his legs encased in black contraptions that resembled oversized ski boots. The devices, which stretched from his feet nearly all the way to his waist, were cold compression chambers designed to reduce swelling in his legs. Bynum largely ignored the media horde staring at him, bobbing to music on his headphones. The Lakers wished he had remained as composed later.
"He's a great guy, a great person and has a great heart," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said of Bynum. "He just has to emotionally bring it down a little bit."