LOS ANGELES If there's anyone alive who still believes that the Lakers are a better team with Kobe Bryant sitting on the bench in a 5,000 suit rather than hoisting jumpers in shorts and a tank top...well...the late Betty Ford's people are holding a suite in Rancho Mirage with your name on it and a 28-day stay included.
It has been the latest rage among some fans and local media-types to suggest that that since the Lakers were 4-1 with Bryant out nursing a bruised shin, that the purple-and-gold bunch was actually a better TEAM. That theory was gunned down Tuesday night by the San Antonio Spurs, much like the Clanton's and McLaury's were by the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday at the O.K. Corral in 1881.
The Spurs (44-16) beat the Lakers (39-23) in every way that's legal in the state of California, ending up with a 112-91 win at STAPLES Center, L.A.'s worst loss this season.
Tony Parker was brilliant, the Spurs' point guard embarrassing both Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake on the way to his game-high 29 points and 13 assists, while Tim Duncan reminded everyone why he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, collecting 19 points, eight rebounds and two steals. And Manu Ginobili was his usual stellar self, scoring fifteen points with six rebounds and 4 assists in 26 minutes off the bench. As a team, San Antonio shot a blazing 59.5 percent.
The Lakers led at the end of the first quarter, 28-27, but the game was never really close after the Spurs ran off 18 consecutive points late in the second quarter. Duncan and Parker ran the pick-and-roll successfully nearly every time they tried it, as L.A. had absolutely no clue how to stop the play.
"We talked about it this morning (at the shoot-around) and we talked about it again before the game," Brown said with exasperation dripping from every syllable. "But for some reason we forgot to push the pick-and-roll to the baseline or the sideline. That's the way you defend it, and we just didn't do it.
"You have to give the Spurs credit; the tempo was in their favor. They dictated the speed the game was played at, and we made mistakes."
And when the Spurs weren't beating up on his team, Brown's players were laying the hurt upon themselves.
"We had a lot of unforced turnovers," Brown said, "and the unforced turnovers just hurt us badly. At halftime we had (13) turnovers for 20 points, and most of those were unforced." The Lakers finished with 20 total turnovers, allowing the Spurs to score 26 points.
Brown also wanted to make it clear that a healthy Bryant might have changed the outcome of the gameor at least given them a chance to be competitive with the Spurs.
"Kobe understands the game so well, that he can change the tempo in a lot of different ways," Brown stated. "It's not just by shooting the ball and scoring points. He might get down on the block, (call) for the ball, and have guys get into different positions on the court and get us better shots as a team. He's our leader out there and he's crucial to every aspect of our game."
Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who had 30 rebounds in a win over the Spurs last week in San Antonio, blasted himself and his teammates, but also gave a lot of credit to their opponents.
"We did a lot of dumb stuff on the court tonight and it cost us (the game),'" said Bynum. "Lots of turnovers and defensive breakdowns.
"But they didn't miss many shots, and that made it hard to do anything, especially rebounding. When the other team doesn't miss, there aren't many rebounds to grab. Bynum led L.A. with 21 points and seven rebounds. Pau Gasol had 16 points and seven rebounds, with Matt Barnes leading the reserves with 16 pointsdouble the total of the rest of the bench combined.
Parker said the Spurs came to Los Angeles with payback on their minds.
"They beat us pretty bad at our place," Parker said, "so we wanted to get it back. Obviously we weren't very happy with our performance (six) days ago, so we were very motivated to get the win."
Super-sub Ginobili said that it was important for the Spurs to show the Lakersand the rest of the NBAthat they were still a team to be feared come playoff time.
"We were all very disappointed with that loss," said Ginobili, "so we needed to come here and play better, feel good about ourselves and (prove) that we are better than we showed.
"We had to play better, we did, and that's a good feeling."
Which is something the Lakers would like to experience as they head to Oakland Wednesday for a game against the hapless Golden State Warriors; a seemingly easy warmup for another meeting with the Spurs in San Antonio on Friday night.
With Bryant possibly missing both road games, though, nothing will be easy for the Lakers.