Utah Jazz: 'Lakers defense' remains contradiction in terms in embarrassing loss to Jazz
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant was the first Laker to walk off the floor at the end, expressionless and not sticking around to exchange pleasantries.
At this point, what is there left to say?
The Los Angeles Lakers are losing at home and on the road with the same regularity, a 117-110 defeat against the Utah Jazz on Sunday night at Staples Center the latest in a season full of them.
A team that began the season with NBA Finals-or-bust aspirations has perfected the second part of that equation, falling to three games below .500 for the second time.
The last time it happened, after a previous loss to Utah, the Lakers fired their coach.
Mike D'Antoni is (presumably) safe for now, though not much has changed over the last month.
Bryant is still scoring at a high rate, the guard getting 34 points on nine-for-24 shooting. Not that it's making any difference for the Lakers on the other end of the court.
The Jazz dominated the Lakers both inside — outscoring them, 54-34, in the paint — and in transition, posting a 19-4 advantage in fast-break points.
"We just have to do a better job defensively," Bryant said. "Offensively, we're OK."
The Lakers spotted the Jazz the game's first eight points, gave up 35 points in the second quarter and allowed Utah to shoot 54.2 percent for the game. Bryant didn't help, failing to get back on defense in the third quarter after having the ball stripped and complaining about a no-call.
Howard seemed visibly frustrated, his teammates repeatedly failing to rotate properly on defense.
"He should be," Bryant said. "He's covering a lot of ground for guys."
Said Howard: "I've just got to continue to play. I've just got to make sure I don't show my frustration that much and just continue to play."
The Lakers shrugged off many of their issues, slicing a 15-point deficit to five in the final minute before a Bryant three-point attempt rolled off the rim and Jodie Meeks committed a needless foul with five seconds left on the shot clock.
They would have preferred not to have found themselves in such a deep hole in the first place.
"I just don't think we have a gut-checking moment yet," D'Antoni said. "At some point, we're going have to draw a line in the sand and that's it, you've got to fight. . Somehow, we've got to play tougher."
D'Antoni tried to squeeze a victory out of Bryant and Howard, playing Bryant for 43 minutes and Howard for 41. Howard finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds, taking only 10 shots while constantly being harassed by double-teams.
He responded by repeatedly passing the ball to teammates.
"I could force the issue, get fouled and stuff like that," Howard said, "but if guys are open I have to trust these guys to knock down shots and that will ease up the double-teams."
Lakers starters Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison were in such a funk that reserves Jordan Hill and Meeks played much of the fourth quarter in their place. Hill scored a season-high 17 points and Meeks had 16, to no avail.
It's not going to get any easier for the Lakers (9-12), who have lost seven of their last 10 games. Next up is a four-game trip for a team that is 2-6 on the road.
"This is a time where a lot of teams might fold or might break up and stop trusting each other," Howard said, "but for us to win a championship we have to stay focused and stay together. It's a long process and a long season and if we do that we'll be playing better come June."
Bryant did make a statement on the court in the final moments, uttering an expletive as he walked back toward the Lakers bench during a timeout with 15 seconds left.
That about said it all.
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