MIAMI — Sometimes the Lakers disintegrate horribly and lose by 36 to the Clippers. Sometimes they fall in overtime to Chicago by allowing a ridiculously easy inbounds play with 0.9 seconds left.
Occasionally, though, they surprise you, winning games against those very same Clippers and Houston earlier this season.
Sad but true, their surprises are now measured by close losses against superior teams.
Such was Thursday, a 109-102 defeat Thursday against the obviously better Miami Heat even though Dwyane Wade sat out because of chronic knee soreness.
The Lakers were right there, down four after a Jodie Meeks three-pointer with 2:51 to play, and then they were gone, dropping to 16-27 and 8½ games behind Dallas for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Pau Gasol continues to hoist the Lakers onto his back and they continue to lose. Chris Bosh scored 31 points, LeBron James did everything well but free throws (a Dwight Howard-like seven for 13) and the Lakers somehow let the Heat shoot 57.7% at AmericanAirlines Arena.
It's starting to wear on Gasol, who seems less enthused after every loss even though he's averaging 20.5 points and 12.1 rebounds this month. The Lakers are now 2-3 on their annual Grammy trip, all five games decided by seven points or less.
"Sometimes I get frustrated because I'm trying to cover all the penetration from different guards attacking us and then my guy is wide open and I get upset," said Gasol, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds Thursday.
"But [Miami] is a tough cover. They've got LeBron, who is an excellent player and makes things very difficult for any team."
Strangely, the Lakers haven't had an overly tough time with Miami this season, losing by only six on Christmas Day.
But Miami (31-12) had bigger things to consider Thursday than the Lakers without Kobe Bryant and four other players. Miami's next two games are against the Western Conference's best, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
As if sensing the unfulfilling reality of beating the defenseless Lakers, James came over and gave Bryant a hug and handshake after the game. Bryant didn't suit up, missing an 18th game because of a fractured knee while the Lakers were swept by Miami for the third time in four seasons.
"Some things have to go perfect for us to beat them and we just didn't do it," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said.
James had 27 points on nine-for-15 shooting, plus 13 rebounds and six assists. Bosh made a highly efficient 15 of 22 shots, including an open 19-footer after pump-faking Jordan Hill out of the way for a 108-101 lead with 54.4 seconds left.
Gasol, Meeks (22 points) and Nick Young (19 points) were the only Lakers with double-figure scoring.
Now they get an Orlando team that is so bad, a playoff spot is a longshot despite being in the weak East.
Those are the games the Lakers need to take, as if every game wasn't already a must-win.