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Lakers can't keep up in the Western Conference

Kobe Bryant's lack of precision, the team's defensive struggles and poor performance by reserves are a few of the Lakers' problems. The Lakers, who were drilled by Oklahoma City, look old and aging.

March 30, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers Coach Mike Brown and his players had no answers for the Thunder on Thursday night in a 102-93 loss at Staples Center.
Lakers Coach Mike Brown and his players had no answers for the Thunder on… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

Derek Fisher was in the building Thursday, but the Lakers didn't hold a postgame team meeting, not even for old times' sake.

They probably needed one.

Andrew Bynum didn't take any ill-advised three-point shots and Kobe Bryant didn't sit four of the last six minutes, but the Lakers still got drilled in their 102-93 loss to Oklahoma City.

They're out of excuses. They just aren't as good at the moment as the younger, springier Thunder.

The Lakers were supposed to have solved their point-guard problems after securing Ramon Sessions from Cleveland a little more than two weeks ago.

They are 4-4 since his arrival. He had seven points Thursday. Russell Westbrook had 36.

Pau Gasol was off his game too, and it was only marginally related to foul trouble. He looked bewildered among the stout Thunder big men, getting three of his shots blocked and making only four of 11 overall.

The Lakers (31-20) have even fumbled their one constant this season. They used to be unstoppable at home, winning 19 of their first 21 games, but that's over too. They've lost three of their last four at Staples Center. They were even booed in the fourth quarter Thursday.

They have no chance at the top spot in the Western Conference. Almost no hope for second place.

Of greater importance, the Clippers are now right behind them in the standings.

One of the Lakers' biggest problems is Bryant's lack of precision.

He hasn't shot this poorly — 42.5% so far this season — since he was a rookie, and his accuracy is falling almost every month. He was solid in January (45.5%), dropped off a shelf in February (40.2%) and fell again so far in March (40.1%).

A lifetime 45.4% shooter before this season, Bryant didn't see many double teams against Oklahoma City. The Thunder usually single-covered him with Thabo Sefolosha.

Bryant was seven for 25 against the Thunder. He's made more than half his shots once in the last 14 games. He didn't talk to reporters Friday.

Metta World Peace was the last player still taking shots after a light practice at the team's training facility. He was also up pretty late after Thursday's game, sending a Twitter blurb before midnight about hitting a nightclub for a party to help welcome Sessions to the Lakers.

He can celebrate bad times too, apparently.

The Lakers don't exactly get a chance to prove themselves for a little while. They have home games against New Orleans, Golden State and New Jersey, teams with a combined 50-102 record.

Their defense was supposed to be their bedrock this season, with Coach Mike Brown handing out his defensive-minded DVDs to players shortly after getting the job last May.

But the Lakers have regularly let teams seep into the 100s this month. They haven't kept a team below 92 points in 13 games.

"It seems like it's not a priority," Gasol said.

Another issue: Lakers reserves outscore their opposing counterparts once a week if they're lucky.

"Yes, there's some concern there," Brown said.

Bynum didn't talk Friday, insisting it was more of a shoot-around than a practice and declaring he didn't talk after shoot-arounds.

He's almost excused from speaking to the media. He actually played hard Thursday, collecting 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Bryant said late Thursday that the Lakers could "absolutely" beat the Thunder down the road. He also came up with the best game plan if they're lucky enough to see Oklahoma City in the playoffs.

"We just have to execute and slow the game down," he said.

Looking old and aging rapidly before our very eyes, it might be the Lakers' only hope.

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