OKLAHOMA CITY — So many signs showed that the Lakers’ unity that allowed them to overachieve started coming apart at the seams.
The Lakers’ 122-97 loss Friday to the Oklahoma City Thunder here at Chesapeake Energy Arena marked the team’s three consecutive loss, all coinciding with Kobe Bryant’s return from a torn left Achilles tendon. The Lakers (10-12) dropped to a 4-6 road record with more stops this week in Charlotte (today), Atlanta (Monday) and Memphis (Tuesday).
Yet, Bryant hardly sounded concerned afterwards about the state of the Lakers.
“I’m not worried about it, to be honest with you,” Bryant said. “We’ve seen worse, we forget kind of what we had to go through last year. I’m not really too concerned about it. I think that our heart is in the right place.”
Indeed, last season proved disastrous among the constant infighting and competing player and coaching agendas. They also averted their first failed playoff appearance since 2005 by closing out the season, 28-12.
But the Lakers have other challenges this season.
The Lakers’ season-wide defensive issues persisted with no answers for Kevin Durant (31 points), Serge Ibaka (19 points) or Reggie Jackson (19 points). They were out-rebounded, 59-41. The Lakers allowed the Thunder to score a season-high 38 points in the first quarter.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol and coach Mike D’Antoni traded lobs through the media. Gasol reiterated frustration with D’Antoni’s offensive system not featuring him enough in the post. D’Antoni reiterated frustration with Gasol’s hustle.
And with injuries to all the Lakers’ point guards in Steve Nash (back), Jordan Farmar (left hamstring) and Steve Blake (right elbow), Bryant became the Lakers’ point guard against the Thunder. He dished out 13 assists, but he also only posted four points on 2 of 6 shooting while committing seven turnovers.
“You guys get wrapped up in this whole point guard thing,” Bryant said. “I was a point guard for three straight championships, so that’s not a big deal to me. It’s getting there, it will be fine.”
So much that Bryant predicted he will soon increase his workload.
“Moving a lot better,” Bryant said. “I’ll get to a point soon where I’ll be able to play a little bit more and be out there on the court for 30, 35 minutes, something like that. Not ready for that yet, but I’ll get there.”
Bryant didn’t reach that point against the Thunder.
Bryant played 23 minutes in the Lakers’ quest to ease him back into the lineup. He also sat during a second-quarter stretch where the Thunder went on a 12-0 run en route to a 56-38 lead with 5:18 remaining.
“We can’t compromise him,” said Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who has kept Bryant under 30 minutes in all three games since his return.
“It’s tough, but just phsycially I’m not ready for that,” Bryant said. “I can feel that it’s not ready. But, we’ll just have to hold the fort down in that time and try to stay within striking distance and go from there.”
Bryant hardly helped in the usual way he has done in the past.
His lone two field-goal attempts in the first half were on layups, including one after stealing the ball from the Thunder’s Jeremy Lamb.
“For what? It’s early in the game,” Bryant said. “I’m still not even loose. Just take the two points.”
Bryant then missed four jumpers in the second half, including two from the elbows and two on the wings. Yet, D’Antoni hardly took issue with Bryant not looking for his shot.
“I think he’ll mix up,” D’Antoni said. “I think he’s reading the game and doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”
Bryant showed that when he made quick passes off the outlet that resulted in a season-high 22 fast-break points. Bryant also routinely connected with Lakers Pau Gasol, who scored 14 points on 6 of of 10 shooting on shots in the post, along the elbows and off pick-and-rolls.
“He’s more in facilitating mode and he’s still adjusting and feeling comfortable with his shape and Achilles,” Gasol said. “I like his unselfishness and the way he’s setting other people up.”
Bryant’s steady progression hasn’t correlated in wins, though. But that hasn’t soured Bryant’s enthusiasm yet on the big picture.
“You just focus on execution, just focus on playing,” Bryant said. “You don’t want to get bogged down with emotional things, you focus on the next opponent. Tonight was a tough team, especially being undermanned, it was a tough team to match up against, with their size and their speed, so we ran into a bit of a buzzsaw tonight. Got another one tomorrow.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org