Kobe Bryant was back on the court. The Lakers barely joined him.
The San Antonio Spurs knocked them around for the second time this week, drubbing them Friday night, 121-97, at AT&T Center.
Tony Parker annoyed them to no end (again), thoroughly outplaying Ramon Sessions as the Lakers' lead over the Clippers fell to half a game in the push for third place in the Western Conference.
Bryant wasn't the problem after missing seven games because of a sore left shin. He scored 18 points on seven-for-12 shooting after leaving his pleasant perch from the Lakers' bench as an unofficial assistant coach. He later said he "felt fresh" after playing almost 30 minutes.
The real issues started with a lame Lakers defense that let the Spurs shoot a stunningly accurate 61%.
Also of note: Andrew Bynum had exactly 28 fewer rebounds than he did here last week, Pau Gasol was pretty much a no-show (11 points on four-for-10 shooting) and Sessions had his worst game with the Lakers.
A pleasant discovery on the day of the trade deadline, Sessions missed seven of nine shots Friday, scored five points, had only one assist and picked up four fouls.
Most of the fourth quarter was garbage time, the Spurs leading by as many as 25 before emptying their bench.
The Lakers (40-24) are now 1-4 against San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the top two teams in the Western Conference. Average point differential in the losses: 17.3.
Few of the Lakers seemed overly concerned Friday. Bryant said he felt agonized only by a ridiculous hat worn by a reporter. Metta World Peace complimented a reporter on having pink toenail polish that matched her shirt.
Gasol was a little more irritated.
"We want to treat each and every one of these games like a playoff game and [Friday] it would have been a very bad playoff loss," he said. "So let's see what we're made of on Sunday and go out and beat Oklahoma [City] on our home floor."
The Lakers' defense wasn't made of much against the Spurs. They let the Spurs shoot 58% in the first half and somehow worsened after that, allowing 65% after halftime.
Parker had 20 points and 10 assists in 28 minutes. Tim Duncan had 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Neither of them played in the fourth quarter.
Manu Ginobili had 20 points, meaning the Spurs' "Big Three" each broke 20 points for the first time since last April.
The Lakers were lousy communicators. After Ginobili scored on a three-pointer late in the third quarter, Bynum shot an angry look at Matt Barnes and raised his arms in frustration.
It was worth wondering if the fluke of the year was last week's game here, a one-sided 98-84 Lakers victory without Bryant.
Earlier this week, the Lakers were pasted by the Spurs at Staples Center, 112-91, as Parker had 29 points and 13 assists.
"It's already behind us," said Bryant, who reported no pain in his shin. "We'll see this team again. We'll see them in the postseason, we'll look at these last two games and we'll go from there."
The Lakers had actually been solid in San Antonio, going 7-6 here in recent years, including playoffs, before Friday.
"They came out and cut us up," said Bynum, who had 17 points and only two rebounds in 30 minutes.
The Lakers have two regular-season games left: Sunday at home against Oklahoma City and Thursday at Sacramento. Third place in the West, and, sure, the Pacific Division title, are at stake.
"If we want to keep the third spot, we have to win," Bynum said.