By Mark Medina
SAN ANTONIO – No matter how much the Lakers scratch and claw out of the deep hole they dug themselves, they keep falling further into the abyss.
The Lakers persistently chipped away double-digit leads only for missed three-pointers from Kobe Bryant and Earl Clark on the final possession to cement a 108-105 loss Tuesday to the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center.
The Lakers played well enough to keep the game competitive against the Western Conference’s third best team despite missing Dwight Howard (right shoulder), Pau Gasol (concussion) and Jordan Hill (left hip) for the second consecutive game. Too bad. The lacking depth eventually exposed the Lakers for the same stretch.
The Lakers (15-20) dropped their fifth consecutive game, the first time such a stretch has happened since April 2011. They’re also 5-12 on the road and 1-4 on the second night of a road back-to-back.
The Lakers are left with an even more difficult task in climbing out of 11th place in the Western Conference. To prevent losing six consecutive games for the first time since March, 2007, the Lakers will have to win their home game Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8), who’s tied with the Clippers as the West’s Conference’s top team.
“It’s a team that is getting some traction,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of his squad. “But we’re a long ways away to smile. We don’t need to until we can start a little bit better.”
It appeared the Lakers wouldn’t even have a chance to gush about a moral victory, something almost unheard of in this organization. The Lakers allowed San Antonio to build consistent double-digit leads after allowing the Spurs to go 12 of 25 from three-point range. Bryant, most notably, rarely rotated quickly enough.
“We just got to work on our execution,” said Bryant, after posting 27 points on 10 of 24 shooting. “We need to keep the guys off the paint and keep them off the middle.”
Regardless, the Lakers found themselves in the game because of two elements.
The Lakers made shots. Steve Nash made two technical free throws, Bryant made a three-pointer and Antawn Jamison made an open layup to cut the deficit to 105-102 with 2:56 remaining.
The team also made stops. Metta World Peace forcing two consecutive turnovers. The Spurs also missed their next three shots.
Though Manu Ginobili’s three pointer appeared to put the game away with a 108-102 lead with 43 seconds left, Clark immediately answered with his own trey. Tony Parker’s bad pass on the next possession then set up for the Lakers with a chance to tie the game.
It didn’t happen.
Bryant’s three-point attempt went off the rim. Clark grabbed the rebound and heaved the ball from behind the perimeter. The attempt fell short.
“I was looking for Steve and Kobe, but I didn’t see how much time was on the clock,” said Clark, who posted a career high 22 points and 13 rebounds in 27 minutes. “So I threw it up and prayed it went in.”
It appeared the Lakers didn’t have a prayer at all.
They showed constant frustration by collecting three technical fouls among Bryant, Darius Morris and Chris Duhon.
The Lakers chipped away at a double-digit deficit by making a flurry of shots, mostly led by Bryant, Clark, World Peace (23 points) and Nash (14 points). Then the Lakers conceded wide open three-pointers. The Lakers lathered, rinsed and repeated.
The Lakers also remained underwhelmed against a team that featured Parker (24 points), Manu Ginobili (19), Stephen Jackson (14), Tiago Splitter (14), Gary Neal (12) and Kawhi Leonard (11).
“Guys did a great job of staying positive and fighting together and not giving in,” Nash said. “It was a lot of good things out there. But it’s definitely a frustrating loss.”