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Lakers a long way from OK

Thunder rolls behind Westbrook, Durant, and leads L.A. by seven games in West.

December 07, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Russell Westbrook, right, celebrates with teammate Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook, right, celebrates with teammate Kevin Durant (Larry W. Smith / EPA )

OKLAHOMA CITY — This wasn't supposed to happen after the James Harden trade created a clear path for the Lakers in the Western Conference.

This wasn't part of the plan after Steve Nash was acquired in July and Dwight Howard a month later.

This was meant to be the Lakers' conference, their season, their return to the NBA Finals.

Instead they fell seven games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder after a 114-108 loss Friday to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Seven games by the seventh of December.

"That's really like, wow," Metta World Peace said after several awkward seconds of letting the concept sink in. "That's a lot. Again, wow. I can't believe it."

It's true.

The Lakers (9-11) still can't win consistently on the road, falling to 2-6 away from Staples Center, and they certainly don't like playing defense.

They let Oklahoma City (16-4) score 41 points in the second quarter, a whopping 67 by halftime.

Russell Westbrook had 27 points and five assists in the first half, becoming the first Seattle/Oklahoma City player with 27 or more points before halftime since Gary Payton against Washington. The year was 2000.

Kobe Bryant had 35 points and seven assists but didn't make it to halftime without starting to boil, cursing and yelling out, "Pass me the ball" as he walked to the bench for a timeout with 2:26 left in the second quarter.

Then he didn't get back on defense, angry he didn't draw a foul on a drive.

Bryant cursed to himself after Westbrook hit a three-pointer and was fouled by Chris Duhon, leading to a four-point play with 45 seconds left in the second quarter.

The Lakers played slightly better defense that quarter than you'd find in an All-Star game. Close call, though.

To the Lakers' credit, Westbrook scored only six points the rest of the way (Kevin Durant had 36, though). Also, a 33-point fourth quarter cut into a 19-point Thunder lead.

Bryant was satisfied enough to stick around and hug four Thunder players near midcourt, a postgame rarity for him.

"We're getting better," said Howard, who had 23 points and 18 rebounds. "This is not on anybody's timetable but ours and we have to be patient and understand this is a process. Despite the loss, we did a lot of great things in the second half that we haven't been doing for the past couple of games."

It was a small plus in a season full of minuses.

Other defensive lowlights this week included the 40-point fourth quarter the Lakers gave up to Orlando and the yelling match Bryant and Howard displayed in New Orleans after mix-ups on defensive assignments.

It was actually Howard, not Bryant, who continued that war of words on the bench, the first-year Lakers addition standing up to the 17-year veteran.

It would take a long time to find the last time that happened on the Lakers, though Chucky Atkins once referred to Bryant derisively as the general manager and, of course, Shaquille O'Neal had no problem confronting Bryant on the court, wherever, whatever, whenever.

Paradoxically, Bryant was irritated that night that Howard called him out publicly like that, even though Bryant does it almost nightly to teammates.

That's the Lakers. Wonderful chemistry all around.

It's can only get better, presumably.

Pau Gasol did not play Friday because of tendinitis in his knees and Nash missed his 18th consecutive game because of a fracture in his lower left leg.

But can those two former All-Stars really help the Lakers get past the Thunder?

The Lakers lost all four games in Oklahoma City last season, including three in the playoffs, by an average of 15.5 points.

To be continued, with the Lakers needing to make up a lot of ground in the standings this early in the season.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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