The Los Angeles Lakers’ lead atop the Western Conference did not last long, though there’s still plenty of time for them to reclaim it.
The Lakers look to get back on the winning track as their fight to keep pace in a tight playoff race atop the conference continues with a matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Los Angeles, an NBA-best 22-5 since the All-Star break, took over the top spot in the West late last week but fell a half-game behind Sacramento and Minnesota with a 95-89 loss to the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.
Kobe Bryant scored 28 points but shot just 9-of-26 from the field as the Lakers had their season-high, 11-game winning streak snapped.
“They’re the defending champions until somebody beats them,” Bryant said. “We were in that position before.”
Gary Payton had 21 points and eight rebounds and Shaquille O’Neal added 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots for Los Angeles, which forced just 10 turnovers and allowed the Spurs to hit 7-of-15 from 3-point range.
“I never felt like we had the kind of energy in the game that I like to have,” Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said.
The Lakers, who averaged 100.9 points during the win streak, made 2-of-12 from beyond the arc and failed to reach 90 points for the first time in 11 games.
“We played right into their hands. We didn’t do a good job of passing the basketball,” added Karl Malone, who had 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Lakers play three of their last five games at Staples Center, where they are 32-6—tied with the Kings for the NBA’s second-best home record behind Dallas. Los Angeles visits Sacramento on Sunday.
The Blazers lost for just the second time in six games with a 94-81 home defeat to the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday.
Zach Randolph had 17 points and eight rebounds for Portland, which is battling Denver and Utah for the eighth and final playoff berth in the West.
“Right now, any game we lose hurts,” Blazers forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim said. “Now we have to go to L.A. and get a win.”
“I’ll take my chances with Damon and D.A. shooting the ball,” Portland coach Maurice Cheeks said. “I believe in Damon and D.A. I’ve won games with them hitting clutch shots.”
These teams meet also meet next Wednesday in Portland to close the regular season.
STANDINGS (through April 4): Trail Blazers - 3rd place, 14 GB, Pacific Division. Lakers - 2nd place, 1/2 GB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Trail Blazers - Randolph, 20.1 ppg and 10.5 rpg; Stoudamire, 6.2 apg. Lakers - Bryant, 23.7 ppg; O’Neal, 11.5 rpg; Payton, 5.5 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 17; Lakers, 89-86. At Los Angeles, O’Neal got the Lakers started with 16 of his 21 points coming in the first half, then Bryant scored 19 of his 31 after halftime.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Trail Blazers - 15-23 on the road; Lakers - 32-6 at home.