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Lakers hang around with Pacers but still fall for 17th loss in 20 games

LAKERS

Lakers in a virtual tie for the worst record in the Western Conference, and Kobe Bryant's return has been delayed for at least three more weeks.

January 28, 2014|By Ben Bolch and Melissa Rohlin

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It was the best of teams, it was the worst of teams.

The Lakers surprisingly stayed with the team holding the best record in the NBA for about three quarters Tuesday night before predictably fading to fall into a virtual tie for the worst record in the Western Conference.

Technically, the Lakers stayed out of the bottom spot by percentage points after a 104-92 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center, about the only positive spin that could be put on a season spiraling out of control on multiple fronts.

The Lakers received more bad injury news in a season full of it, learning that persistent pain and swelling in Kobe Bryant's injured left knee would sideline him well into next month and force him to miss the All-Star game Feb. 16 in New Orleans.

Bryant will be re-examined in three weeks but could require further conditioning after being cleared to return, raising the possibility that he may not be ready to come back before March.

As he paused for a brief interview with The Times in a loading-dock area after the game, Bryant described himself as "disappointed" in the setback.

"It's like an internal swelling," Bryant said of his knee. "It's different. It's not something that's kind of on the surface where you can pinpoint and feel the swelling around. It's deep in there. . . . It's frustrating."

One can only wonder where the Lakers might be in the standings by the time Bryant is ready to return.

Their fifth consecutive defeat left them with a 16-30 record and a .348 winning percentage, a few ticks above the .341 of Sacramento (15-29). The Lakers have not been in last place in the West this late in a season since the end of the 1974-75 season, when they finished 30-52.

"It's been that type of year," said center Pau Gasol, who shrugged off a sore groin to collect 21 points and 13 rebounds. "I don't really like to think about our record too much. I'd kind of rather stay positive and work every single day to make it better and help the team win."

Jodie Meeks also scored 21 points for the Lakers, who otherwise struggled against the league's best defense. Manny Harris missed all six of his shots and Nick Young made only five of 16 coming off the bench.

It was not the kind of feel-good vibe the Lakers wanted on a night they commemorated late owner Jerry Buss with giveaway bobblehead dolls and video tributes one day after his birthday.

David West scored 19 points and Lance Stephenson had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Pacers (35-9), whose game notes must have seemed like a cruel joke to the perpetually short-handed Lakers because they included the phrase "Injuries: None."

"Sometimes there's just a lack of physical talent there," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said of his team, which has sustained injuries to five point guards. "You can't get around it and we have guys that are playing extra minutes and out of position, but they're playing as hard as they can play."

Indiana star Paul George struggled through a four-for-21 shooting performance on the way to 14 points but made a behind-the-back move on a breakaway dunk and drilled a three-pointer at the end of the third quarter that extended the Pacers' lead to 79-69.

Bryant was recently selected for his 16th All-Star game in fan voting but said he was skittish about playing even before his latest setback because he has played in only six games this season. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will now pick an All-Star replacement for Bryant, with West Coach Scott Brooks deciding who will start in his spot.

The Lakers said Bryant's workouts would consist of non-weight-bearing exercises, mostly a stationary bike, which didn't go over well with him.

"I'm ready to throw the bike in the damn pool right about now," he said, "but you do what you got to do. . . . I've been through worse. The Achilles' was much much worse. This is frustrating but it's still — with the Achilles' I couldn't move at all. With this one, at least I can walk around a little bit, at least I can do the bike, do something active. Just trying to find the positive in it."

The way things are going for Bryant and the Lakers, that could take some doing.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

Correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.

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