Kobe Bryant covered his eyes in disgust. His teammates hung their shoulders in embarrassment. The Laker fans strolled out of Staples Center struggling to process what happened well before the result became official.
The Lakers’ 123-87 loss Friday to the Clippers in a designated road game at Staples Center represented the tipping point in what’s become painfully obvious in 10 of their past 11 losses. The Lakers don’t have any solution on defense, conceding more than 100 points for the fourth consecutive game. Their 21 turnovers offered no sign that number will ever fall until any of their injured point guards return. Heck, the Lakers haven’t offered much evidence they can win a game until Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar and Xavier Henry all return from the various ailments that have kept them in street clothes.
All the disastrous developments made for a history lesson. That entailed the Lakers dropping so many games for the first time since the 2004-05 season. The Lakers nearly mirrored their franchise record for largest margin of defeat, a 46-point blowout Jan. 9, 1995 in Portland. The Lakers easily surpassed their margin of defeat ever against the Clippers, their 36-point loss topping a 31-point blowout 1992 to the Clippers at the Sports Arena.
Such a mess also provided an ominous cloud over the Lakers’ future and left the them for the first time all season fearing the worst come April.
“Best case scenario, we come out everyday competing with great effort, get some bodies back and we get some good results,” said Lakers forward Pau Gasol after posting only 10 points on 5-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds and five assists. “Whatever that is at the end of the season and whatever record we finish with, we should be okay with it that we gave everything we have. If that means making the playoffs, that would be great. It’d be tough because of the position we put ourselves into right now.”
The Lakers (14-23) rank 13th in the Western Conference, trail the Dallas Mavericks (21-16) by seven games for the eighth playoff seed and have only a two-game cushion over the Utah Jazz (12-26) for the conference’s worst record.
“It could get better, but we’re going to need somebody to come back from the injury list and settle us down a little bit,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We have guys running on fumes.”
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the only injured player on the horizon includes Henry, who could return from a bone bruise in his right knee when the Lakers play Cleveland Tuesday at Staples Center. The Lakers then have a seven-game, 12-day trip where they still won’t have their other four guards. The Lakers will reevaluate Bryant and Nash from their respective left knee and back injuries following the trip, making it possible for them to return in late January or early February. Blake and Farmar are expected back shortly after.
Based on the evidence the Lakers have provided in the past two weeks, at least eight more games without the Lakers’ four seasoned backcourt players could easily seal the team’s lost season before its stars even have a chance to save it.
So what does D’Antoni tell his team on how to climb out of a sinking hole?
“‘Hang your head,’” D’Antoni said mistakenly. “I mean, ‘Keep your head up and let’s slug through it and fight and come back on Sunday [at practice] and try to go at it.’”
The Lakers have clung to that storyline for a while, pointing out how this injury-plagued roster hasn’t decimated the team’s spirit and fight. In the Lakers’ latest loss, though, things were different.
“Nobody likes to lose, especially getting embarrassed,” said Lakers guard Jodie Meeks, who posted 11 points on only 2-of-10 shooting. “The way we’re losing is embarrassing.”
The Clippers’ Blake Griffin (33 points), Darren Collison (20 points) and JJ Redick (19 points) cracked open the Lakers’ flimsy interior and perimeter defense. The Lakers’ 21 turnovers represented a whole sort of miscues from Kendall Marshall’s adjustment to new teammates (two), Meeks’ adjustment toward playing point guard (five) and Chris Kaman’s adjustment toward playing in the rotation (four). The Lakers’ 34.9 percent field-goal shooting showed a team lacking any offensive identity. Both the Lakers’ deficits in the first quarter (43-25) and third quarter (31-8) showed a team both unable to start or continue playing with the right intensity.
“I can’t take one positive thing out of this game. We were competitive for maybe five minutes,” said Marshall, who posted 16 points on 6 of 11 shooting and 10 assists. We just can’t have that. It has nothing to do with talent and it has nothing to do with who’s injured. We just have to go out there and compete.”
But the Lakers didn’t.
Griffin and DeAndre Jordan dunked all over the place. The Clippers pick-pocketed the Lakers for 16 steals. The Clippers stuffed the Lakers at the basket 13 times. On and on it went without the Lakers doing anything about it.
“We have to continue to fight and fight hard,” said Lakers forward Nick Young, who posted 11 points on only 3-of-14 shooting. “We can’t say we’ll do it. We have to execute it. We can’t let people dunk on us and clown us. We need to give some hard fouls and show some emotion. If somebody dunks on us, we put our heads down and let them continue to do it. Foul somebody. Get mad.”
Why haven’t the Lakers done that?
“I think we competed. But at the same time, the level of confidence is very low,” Gasol said. “Once you accumulate a few mistakes, the opposing team cracks the game open and gets away from you. It affects the team in a negative way. We just have to make sure we don’t get demoralized and continue to play for 48 minutes. Teams are going to make runs, but because of the bad streak that we’re going through, that affects us in a worse way.”
As a result, the Lakers are back to where they were last season, trying to figure out how they can pull everything together and scrap away toward a playoff berth. Last season, though, the Lakers eventually overcame their persisting injuries by ironing out competing coaching and playing agendas while leaning on Bryant’s heroics. This season, the Lakers are left without Bryant’s help and without any locker room bickering to solve.
“After a while, it feels like the roof is caving in on you,” D’antoni said. “They came out so hard that they sagged their shoulders a bit. We’ll be competitive. Whether we have enough to win, we’ll see. But we’ll keep fighting.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org