Lakers lose, but Kobe stays on point

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant was trying to keep things calm. So with full force and full throat, he earnestly preached patience after the Lakers' 105-95 loss to the Clippers on Friday night at Staples Center dropped them to 0-3 on the season for the first time since the year he was born, 1978.

"I can be patient," he said. "Because I understand that's part of my role to, believe it or not, to try to be the voice of reason.

"To keep us going, keep us trucking. I've been through these things before. We've just got to continue the process."

A day after telling a worried city of Lakers fans to "shut up" about the team's new-look Princeton offense that hasn't been much to look at so far, Bryant was still on message, albeit not as forcefully.

Then his cellphone went off, music that sounded like an alarm to evacuate a spaceship blaring. It was the timer letting him know he could take his feet out of an ice bath.

Bryant tried to ignore it, but the symbolism was too obvious. He might not be panicking, but it's hard not to start worrying about his Lakers after a third straight game in which their defense looked awful, their offense looked sluggish and their weaknesses glared.

There are any number of ways to explain why the Lakers lost again Friday:

• Clippers point guard Chris Paul had as many assists (15) as the entire Lakers team.

Dwight Howard took only seven shots. Pau Gasol took only nine and just three in a second half in which Clippers forward Blake Griffin was in foul trouble.

• The Clippers scored 20 second-chance points and 21 fast-break points.

• The Lakers had another 20 turnovers, leading to 25 Clippers points.

• The Clippers' bench outscored the Lakers' chronically anemic second unit 46-16.

But all those are symptoms of a larger issue. The same issue that will continue to be a problem for the Lakers until they do some soul searching.

At this stage in their process, the Lakers have only an idea of what kind of team they should be. And they seem committed to it. But becoming that team, taking on the identity of a selfless group that shares the ball on offense to become greater collectively than the sum of its superstar parts and plays hard-nosed defense, that's going to take some time.

"It's a thinking man's game," Bryant said. "We have to think through the process: what we want to do, how we want to play.

"We're not the most athletic team in the world, so you can't just go out there and say play harder. We have to try to out-think teams and outmaneuver them. It's going to take some time.

"There's certain things other teams can get away with that we can't get away with. So we have to kind of think through identity-wise what we need to do to shore some of these things up."

Bryant has earned the platform to say things such as this. To tell people to chill, or in his case, "shut up."

However, it's also his job as the Lakers' leader to do so. The second he panics (and no, his sarcastic quote about pushing "the panic button" from Friday night doesn't count because he was kidding), what does the rest of the team do?

How can they have faith if he doesn't?

No, it's his actions that must speak for him now. And Friday night, his actions early in the fourth quarter said there's reason to be concerned.

The Clippers had built their lead to 82-67 and were about to run away with it. Bryant went into "Mamba" mode, hitting four straight baskets to cut the lead to 84-75 with 9:28 to go. In all, he scored 17 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter on 7-for-8 shooting. He's now averaging more than 30 points a game this season on 61 percent shooting, and it's not nearly enough.

Lakers fans started streaming to the exits when Jamal Crawford scored off a fast break with 2:50 to go to push the Clippers' lead back to 12 points.

"We've just got to continue to get better," Howard said. "We just have to keep playing. We can't get frustrated."

For now, they're all saying the right things. Preaching patience. Breathing deep. Trusting in the process and believing in the vision Bryant sees so clearly.

But at some point, these Lakers need to win. For their confidence at the very least. Sunday night against the Detroit Pistons would be a good start.

"I'm not trying to fool anybody here," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "We do need a win. We hoped that we could have gotten one tonight. That's part of the reason why Kobe played the minutes he played, which were too many. But while we're trying to get this win, we still have to do things right."