LOS ANGELES – With time winding down and the inevitable setting in, the disgusted Los Angeles Lakers fan yanked off his brand new Dwight Howard jersey and tossed it hard on his fourth-row seat. Seconds later, he was consoled by a grinning Clippers fan before the buddies headed toward the exits prior to the end of the winless Lakers' 105-95 loss to the cross-town rival on Friday night.
For years, the Clippers struggled and were the butt of jokes. On this night, however, the underachieving Lakers, who fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1978-79 season, are currently the lesser team in The City of Angels. And they've got lots of major problems.
"I feel like I have this whole thing in perspective," a cool and calm Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "In terms of where we are, you wish it wouldn't be like this. But it is what it is. I'm focused. I know what I got to keep doing to stay the course."
The Lakers are banged up. Point guard Steve Nash missed Friday's game with a shin injury he suffered in a loss at Portland on Wednesday night and is day to day. His replacement, Steve Blake, struggled with eight points on 2-of-6 shooting, two assists, three turnovers and six fouls in Nash's absence. Kobe Bryant is also playing with a strained right foot, but he is one of the few bright spots as he scored 40 points on 14-of-23 shots against the Clippers. And Howard is still working himself into shape after recovering from a back injury.
The Lakers have failed to find their identity offensively after adopting the Princeton offense. They are averaging a mere 97.3 points per game. Howard said the Lakers are still learning the offense. Bryant said they need to get their timing down and make the right reads on their passes.
Those poor reads helped lead to 20 turnovers against the Clippers, who converted them into 25 points. The Lakers are averaging 19.6 turnovers through three games and their defense is allowing 106.6 points per game while forcing only 12.2 turnovers a game.
Along with a befuddled starting five, the Lakers' bench has been bad. It was outscored 46-16 Friday as no reserve has scored in double-figures in any of the three games.
Even hustle points aren't showing up in the Lakers' favor. The Clippers got nine offensive rebounds and scored 20 points on second-chance attempts.
This slow start isn't what anyone expected from a club that added Howard and Nash in the offseason. But with 79 regular-season games still to play and NBA history in mind as a reference, Bryant says he isn't worried.
"I know the story of the game of basketball. The Bulls went through this in the 1990-91 [season]. It's process. [Stuff] happens. You got to figure your way through," Bryant said.
A lot of blame toward the Lakers' poor start has been placed on Brown. The second-year Lakers coach, who replaced Hall of Famer Phil Jackson, says he is not listening to his critics.
"You have to ignore the noise," Brown said. "You can't listen to everything. Even when things are going well, I don't read the newspapers or watch the talk shows. I don't do any of that. Even in Cleveland when we were winning 66 and 67 games and playing well at times, good or bad, I feel like I have a plan, I stay the course and I try not to listen to any noise.
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Clipper Darrell, the franchise's long-time superfan, stood with his chest out while talking trash several rows up from his beloved team's bench as the final seconds ticked away. Stunned Lakers fans looked at him and had nothing to say. But of the Lakers' three losses, this one from the Clippers (2-0) should bring the least disappointment since they are an NBA power led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
"Now they feel the heat a little bit," Griffin said of the rivalry.
Next up for the Lakers on Sunday night are the 0-2 Detroit Pistons, who can either be the needed elixir or take Los Angeles to an even lower depth of despair.
"There is a sense of urgency to turn things around," Bryant said. "You want to start clicking and get some results. You want guys to build some confidence off of that. But I'm not nervous about it."
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