Hornets 113, Lakers 103

If the quick math I did after the game is correct, the Lakers are now giving up 103.1 points per game. The numbers are admittedly skewed by a couple of big games – – giving up 147 to Washington in OT and 133 to Charlotte in triple OT – – but Saturday night was another example that the Lakers are not a good defensive team.

For comparison, the Lakers gave up fewer points on average when they finished 34-48 in 2004-05. The difference is they spent little time talking about defense that season under coach Rudy Tomjanovich and stressed defense from Day 1 of training camp this season.

Im not sure there was one play that summed up the Lakers defensive effort Saturday but there were definitely a few. Rasual Butler got free from Kobe Bryant and knocked down two 3-pointers in the first quarter with the Lakers slow to rotate to cover him.

Butler is a stand-alone shooter who missed jumpers the rest of the quarter whenever any Laker got within three feet of him. He hit two more 3s in the last three minutes and now has gone for 22 and 20 points in two games against the Lakers this season.

If there was a moment that stood out for you, I’d love to hear it. Here’s a couple of others that I circled in the notebook:

Early in the second quarter, Vladimir Radmanovic left to double Desmond Mason on one play, which led to an open lay-up for Linton Johnson. Either Radmanovic made a bad decision leaving Johnson or the Lakers once again were too slow to rotate.

The second quarter also featured a stretch where the Hornets made nine straight shots. One of those came after Bryant missed a jumper. Devin Brown went end to end for an uncontested lay-up. The Hornets went from eight points down to eight up in winning the quarter 34-22.

Barely a minute into the second quarter and the Hornets ran out on the Lakers. Jackson has talked about defensive retreat being an area for improvement. Instead, you had Brown lobbing an alley-oop to Mason, who dunked while being shoved by Brian Cook.

It was Cooks fourth foul and ended his night. He played only the first 1:15 of the second half. Vladimir Radmanovic didnt even last that long. He was on the floor just 43 seconds before picking up his third foul and sending West to the line.

In a truly weird moment, Radmanovic tossed the ball to a fan while referee Tony Brown was trying to retrieve it for Wests free throws. Radmanovic was gone and Jackson had to play Ronny Turiaf and Andrew Bynum together.

The Lakers used four players in all – – Cook, Radmanovic, Turiaf and Luke Walton in trying to defend West. Cook was the first guy out of the locker room afterward; Radmanovics night was memorable for smiling at a fan who mocked his hair.

Getting back Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown from injury is going to make a difference defensively, but Im not sure how much. Never, ever forget the stat that the Lakers are 16-2 if they can just hold a team under 100 points.

* * *

Now the Lakers have to win Monday night against Golden State to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. I asked Jackson before the game how important it was that the Lakers had not lost more than two consecutive games in the seasons first half.

“Its really important, Jackson said. “The key when you get to the upper echelon is to say, `Were going to stop this bleeding immediately, and one game might be it.

* * *

The technical foul Bryant got in the third quarter was his seventh of the season. It takes 16 to earn a one-game suspension and Bryant has been picking up technicals with greater frequency. He got one Saturday when he made a steal and went in for a lay-up but didn’t get an and-one foul call on Brown. Bryant voiced his frustration and referee Ron Garretson called the technical.

It wound up being a momentum-changing call, too. The Lakers had climbed within three points with Bryant’s basket. The technical free throw made it 70-66 and the Hornets scored two more baskets to make it an eight-point game.

Another huge shot was Jannero Pargo’s 3-pointer coming after Jordan Farmar missed two free throws that could have given the Lakers a lead with 37.6 seconds left in the third. Yes, Bryant did answer with a 3 at the other end, but Pargo’s shot accounted for a five-point swing in the game.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY–Oh, what a beautiful morning. Oh, what a miserable night.

The Lakers played their part to perfection Saturday night in the basketball revival of “Oklahoma! They took the stage against a New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets team that hadnt sniffed .500 in weeks and left with yet another inexplicable loss.

So went this trip to the land where the corn is as high as an elephants eye. The Lakers were left feeling smaller than a snail after losing 113-103 to the NBAs lowest-scoring team. Only twice in the previous 21 games had the Hornets even scored 100 points.

The Lakers were out of answers after reaching the midpoint of their season with a 26-15 record. They have been good enough to beat the Western Conferences top four teams but also bad enough to lose to four of its five worst teams.

Maurice Evans, who scored a career-high 23 points, voiced the frustration felt across the locker room. Only three days after winning at San Antonio – – where the Spurs were all but invincible the last two seasons – – the Lakers fell to a 16-23 Hornets team.

“If we take care of business and we win the games were supposed to, were sitting at the top of the league easy, Evans said. “Thats the frustrating thing about it. Were still in a great position. Were still ahead of the curve.

“But its like were fighting and fighting and fighting and then we shoot ourselves in the foot and make it difficult and take two steps back. Weve got to be more focused and play together.

The Lakers added another bad loss to a ledger that already included games against Seattle, Portland, Charlotte and Memphis. The Lakers also lost to the Hornets on Dec. 6 but that at least was before Chris Paul suffered a severe ankle sprain.

As it was, the Hornets were playing their second game with David West (26 points) and Bobby Jackson (15 points) back from injuries. The Hornets scored 59 points in the first half and led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter before holding on late.

Now consider that the Hornets came into Saturday averaging 89.9 points per game. They left having scored 23 more points than that against a Lakers team that stressed defense from Day 1 in training camp.

“Our defense is obviously not very good right now, Evans said. “Weve got to learn to trust one another on both ends of the floor. I think that thats evident in why we lose certain games, especially to teams that arent as talented as we are.

Case in point: The Hornets hit nine consecutive shots and scored 34 points in the second quarter. Another example: Rasual Butler connected on two 3-pointers in the final three minutes when the Lakers were slow to rotate to him.

“They just played better than we did, Kobe Bryant said. “We battled back in certain situations. They just played better. They deserved to win.

The Hornets were playing the second game of a back-to-back set after losing to San Antonio. The Lakers had all day Friday to get here from Dallas and an off night to rest. It didnt matter as the rain turned to snow Saturday night in the state capital.

“It seems like our focus is a lot sharper and were able to sustain it against a San Antonio, Evans said, “but it seems like we have more mental lapses when we play teams like tonight.

In spite of it all, the Lakers had a chance to win in the final 2:25. They went into a timeout down 102-99 and came out of it to watch Jackson miss a 3-pointer. Bryant drove to the basket at the other end but had his lay-up blocked by Butler.

Butler buried a 3-pointer at the other end to give the Hornets a six-point lead. Bryant missed a 3-pointer of his own and West knocked down a 13-foot fadeaway to make it 107-99 with 1:27 to play. It was gone in 58 seconds for the Lakers.

“Giving them 113 points, thats a problem, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “Not having a chance down the stretch, thats not smart on our part.

Bryant had only three points at halftime – – all at the foul line – – but led the Lakers back in the third quarter by scoring 14 points. He made only 2 of 8 shots in the fourth quarter, though, and finished with 23 points on 7-of-22 shooting and seven assists.

Butler had 20 points and hit 4 of 7 3-pointers as the Hornets won for the fourth time in five games. Smush Parker was the only other Laker in double figures with 13 points. The Lakers were out-rebounded 46-37.

The Lakers missed injured starters Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom in the worst way and were left with a funny feeling as they exited the Ford Center. Nothing was going their way.