ORLANDO — For the second straight night, the Lakers found themselves on the losing side of a disputed connection in the state of Florida.
Saturday night, it was Sasha Vujacic’s shot with 3.9 seconds remaining that rattled around the rim and found a way to pop out, crushing the Lakers hopes of salvaging this swing through the Sunshine State and sending them to a 106-103 loss against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Arena.
Friday night, Kobe Bryant’s last-second shot rattled around the rim down in Miami as the Lakers lost to the Heat 89-87.
It marked the first time the Lakers (21-5) have lost back-to-back games this season and the first time they’ve failed to win a game in either Miami or Orlando since the 2004-05 season.
They’ll have a day off today in Memphis to regroup before resuming this four-game road trip Monday night against the Grizzlies.
“I don’t think we are down. We lost on two in-and-outs and that’s pretty painful,” Vujacic said of the Lakers psyche after back-to-back losses.
His own wasn’t as healthy.
“It was one of the worst night’s I’ve probably had,” said Vujacic, who missed all six shots he took Saturday. “Coach showed me confidence. Kobe showed me confidence. He passed me the ball. Those are the shots I live for. When I saw that it came out, I was shocked. It was just painful.”
The loss wasted the best performances of the season from Bryant, who had 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists, and Fisher, who scored 27 points in a season-high 41 minutes.
It also compounded what had already been a rough day for the Lakers. In the morning the team learned that back-up point guard Jordan Farmar suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee in Friday’s game.
Farmar wasn’t sure of the severity yet, but will return to Los Angeles today and be re-evaluated Monday. Surgery is an option, though neither Farmar or Lakers’ coach Phil Jackson wanted to speculate on that prospect Saturday night. Farmar was able to walk on his own Saturday.
“Sometimes when you’re going through things this stuff happens,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher said after the game. “Sometimes, in life, everything just seems to go wrong at the same time. Right now, for us, with Jordan’s injury and the two shots at the end (of the last two games), I guess right now it’s just our time.”
Still, Fisher stressed patience and calm as the Lakers try and work their way out of this Floridian funk.
“As badly as we want to be the best, they don’t hand out any trophies in December,” he said. “We just need to keep working hard and realize we’re still 21-5, we’re still on pace to win a ton of games, and we’re still the best team in the West.”
Whether that’s good enough to beat the best teams from the East is still hard to figure. After beating the San Antonio Spurs and Lakers in the last three days, Orlando (21-6) is starting to fashion itself as a legitimate threat in what looks to be an especially rugged Eastern Conference this season.
“We believe we’re contenders,” said Magic point guard Jameer Nelson, who led his team with 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting Saturday. “The naysayers say we’re not. This means a lot. I think it’s a statement game. It shows we’re serious and we’re contenders for the East.”
In under a week, the Lakers will be able to judge for themselves, as they take on he Boston Celtics on Christmas Day at Staples Center.
All of a sudden, that game seems further off than it did at the start of the trip.
“We have to bounce back against Memphis,” Vujacic said. “We have to have a day or two to think about it and then do what we do best … and that’s winning.”
First and foremost, the Lakers will need to re-involve their two 7-footers, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who combined for just 14 points and eight rebounds Saturday. Friday in Miami, the duo combined for just 17 points.
Bynum’s woes are easily definable. He picked up his second foul after one minute and five seconds of play on Saturday and had to sit out the rest of the quarter. And for the rest of the night, as soon as he’d re-enter, it seemed the whistle would blow again.
Gasol’s struggles are a bit trickier to understand. Friday night he was feeling the after-effects of a case of strep throat, which forced him to miss a game earlier in the week. But Saturday, it seemed like he had a hard time finding his place in the game.
“I talked with Pau a little bit after the game,” Bryant said. “It’s tough for him because it seems like he’s fighting his nature. He’s such a willing facilitator, but at the same time, if he’s got to take them and stay aggressive offensively.”