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Lakers get closer ... but to what?

LOS ANGELES -- Better and closer wasn’t good enough. The Lakers lost another game against one of the league’s top teams -- this time on a tip-in at the buzzer against the Spurs as opposed to their double-digit home losses to the Heat and Celtics.

Better and closer won’t be enough to quell the grumbling by voices from the courtside season-ticket holders to the concession-stand workers that the Lakers need to do something. Better and closer won’t change the fact that it’s February and the Lakers have twice as many losses as the Spurs.

The question now is whether better and closer will be enough to alter the increasingly unusual activity in Lakerland, starting with general manager Mitch Kupchak’s public proclamation that the Lakers might need to make a trade and continuing with the presence of owner Jerry Buss at Thursday’s morning shootaround. Both moves were out of character. The most extreme outcome would be to use Andrew Bynum in an attempt to lure Carmelo Anthony from the Nuggets.

On the one hand, Bynum had 10 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocked shots against the Spurs on Thursday night, returning after missing a game with a bruised bone in his left knee. But he also sat on the bench for the final seven minutes. If a sixth-year player’s not going to be used in crunch time against the biggest conference rival, how much is he really a part of the team’s present or future?

Harry How/Getty Images

Antonio McDyess rolled the Spurs to a win.

At least Ron Artest found himself on the court for fourth-quarter minutes this time, a reward for his 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting (only his second double-figure scoring night in the past eight games) and his defense that held Manu Ginobili to 5-for-17 shooting.

Despite everything that Artest and the Lakers did right, from overcoming an eight-point deficit in the final quarter to Kobe Bryant involving his teammates and posting a near triple-double on a night he missed 13 of 18 shots, they still broke down repeatedly in the final 23 seconds.

Ginobili had a wide-open 3-pointer that he missed. The Spurs got the rebound, and Tony Parker drove the lane for one of his teardrop shots that also missed. Bryant had stepped over and was in position to draw the charge, but no call was made after a multicar pileup that left Parker, Bryant, Pau Gasol and Antonio McDyess on the ground. The ball went out of bounds to San Antonio, last touched by Artest.

There were 4.6 seconds remaining, enough time for Tim Duncan to get off a shot. That missed, but Lamar Odom got caught staring at Duncan instead of boxing out McDyess, who slipped past him and tipped in the rebound for the winning margin in the Spurs’ 89-88 victory.

The fact that it was the 36-year-old McDyess who made the big play set off a round of old-man jokes around Twitter and even among the Spurs.

“Come on, old man,” George Hill said to McDyess as they left the Staples Center. “I should carry you out, just for that shot.”

“I need to be carried out,” McDyess said.

They Lakers could use a lift themselves. After absorbing a 16-point loss to the Heat on Christmas and a 13-point loss to the Celtics on Sunday, the Lakers had sunk to the point whether they actually found some progress in the manner in which they lost to the Spurs for the second time this season.

They found themselves locked in a low-scoring, grinding game in which neither team led by more than eight points. All night, there were deflected passes and contested shots, with both teams shooting in the low 40s.

These two teams know each other too well for the flow to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s like a tennis match between the Williams sisters. “We played hard; we still gave ourself a chance to win,” said Bryant, who had 16 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds and the passes that led to the Lakers’ final two baskets and Gasol’s go-ahead free throws.

“We competed, we made a run, we had our chances,” said Gasol, who had another “black swan” game with 19 points and seven rebounds. “That’s an improvement.”

Except it wasn’t enough to keep the Lakers (34-16) from sliding to 7½ games behind the Spurs (41-8) in the Western Conference standings. It won’t be enough to stop the speculation that they need to make a move.