An unexpected loss at home accentuated the Los Angeles Lakers’ recent struggles.
Los Angeles will look to snap out of its recent malaise when the Boston Celtics visit the Staples Center.
Losers of two straight and four of their last six, the Lakers are coming in off a 99-87 setback to the Houston Rockets on Christmas Day, only their second loss in 16 games at home.
“We’re not a very good team right now,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “We’ve just hit a slump in which we’re not a very good basketball club. It’s not about competing, it’s about not being capable of competing because we’re not good enough to compete right now.”
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but he shot only 1-of-7 in the fourth quarter, as the Lakers were outscored 22-10 over the final nine minutes.
At one point Los Angeles looked untouchable this season, with a 10-game winning streak and the league’s best record. But an injury to Karl Malone has contributed to the Lakers’ woes, as they now lead the Pacific Division by just a half-game over the Sacramento Kings.
Malone, out the last two games with a sprained knee, is not expected back for Sunday’s contest. His failure to show up for Thursday’s game was considered an unexcused absence by Jackson.
“We got a call this morning saying he wasn’t going to come even though I asked him to come yesterday,” Jackson said. “It’s an unexcused absence, we’ll talk about it.”
The Celtics are 1-1 on their four-game road trip, following a 104-102 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
Ricky Davis, in his fifth game with Boston after being acquired in a six-player trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Dec. 15, hit an open 20-foot jumper with 2.8 seconds remaining to give the Celtics the win.
“He’s scary,” said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half. “When he starts coming along with us, we’re going to be scary.”
Davis, a starter with Cleveland but a reserve in Boston, finished with 14 points and Pierce chipped in a season-high 11 assists for the Celtics, who rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit.
“I think we’re playing a little more mentally tough,” Pierce said. “We got down and we just didn’t give in.”
STANDINGS (through Dec. 26): Celtics - 2nd place, 1 GB, Atlantic Division. Lakers - 1st place, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 23.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 6.0 apg. Lakers - Bryant, 21.3 ppg; O’Neal, 11.6 rpg; Payton, 6.6 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: March 21; Lakers, 104-96. At Los Angeles, with former Celtics great Bill Russell courtside, O’Neal scored 48 points and had 20 rebounds to help the Lakers split the season series and snap a three-game losing streak to Boston.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Celtics - 7-7 on the road; Lakers - 14-2 at home.