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Signs pointing to different Laker repeat

Thursday served as further proof that there are two things Los Angeles doesn't handle well: rain and Lakers losing streaks. It didn't matter that it was the latest in a string of sunny and warm days; there was gloom and anxiety all over the city because the Lakers have dropped two in a row to start the Western Conference semifinals. The guy at the counter next to me in the AT&T Wireless store had to buy a new iPhone because, "I went to the Laker game last night and got so mad I lost my phone." On my way to Dallas the guys at the airport parking lot and security line all wondered how the Lakers could be down 2-0, and whether they could come back.

When so many members of a city's population -- particularly those sharing the arena space with a team -- are in such a foul mood it can't help but impact the players. You know how they say owners and their dogs start to look like each other the more time they're together? Same applies to the energy of a team and its fan base. Both the Lakers and their crowds have been similar throughout the season in that they spend more time waiting for something to happen than making something happen.

Game 2 felt like the first time there was not an assumption by the fans that everything would work out. It started with the rustling every time Pau Gasol got the ball, with the crowd urging him to do something. (That noise has replaced the unique crowd sound from last year's playoffs, when the fans would beg Ron Artest to not shoot whenever he so much as looked at the basket.)

The Lakers were never more than six points behind throughout the third quarter, nothing a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers couldn't take care of, and yet it always felt as if it would take a comeback similar to Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals for the Lakers to win.

"If it seemed that way it was probably because everybody got discouraged because of what we were doing defensively," Kobe Bryant said. "[The Mavs] kept getting open look after open look. I think that's where that negative energy came from."

For Bryant to even notice and/or acknowledge a bad vibe is uncharacteristic. But in this case it was undeniable. That negative energy was there, all but taking on a physical form like the underground river of slime in "Ghostbusters II."

Fans who couldn't bother to raise a concerned eyebrow above their sunglasses during the regular-season struggles can no longer afford to be patient

"Just wait 'til the playoffs" no longer applies now that we're almost halfway through the playoffs and the Lakers have more losses than any other team still alive in the postseason.

Bryant suggested hitting the road might help; after all, the Lakers have a higher playoff winning percentage there than at home, having won two of their three games in New Orleans last round. But that won't eliminate all of the bad vibes around this team.

There's tension and distraction among the support group, with members of the training staff and video coordinators among the Lakers employees who have been told they could not be guaranteed employment if a lockout occurs on July 1. How is there supposed to be esprit des corps or full concentration on the task at hand when you need to start planning for your next job because the organization says you won't be around much longer?

Among the players there are the "trust issues" Andrew Bynum mentioned after Game 2, which pertained to defensive responsibilities and who would cover whose back. There seems to be a disconnect between what the game plan is and what people are willing to do without getting embarrassed by the man they're responsible for lighting them up. The players abandoned the tactic that eventually slowed down Chris Paul -- having the big man slide off the screen and delay the point guard before recovering back to his own man -- because they're afraid to leave Dirk Nowitzki open.

On offense there is the ongoing back-and-forth between Bryant taking over or involving his teammates, made even more complicated by the fact they don't know what to expect from Gasol at this point. After Game 2, Bryant implied he didn't want his teammates simply looking for him to bail them out.

"You can't just dump the ball off to [Gasol] or me and expect us to beat double- and triple-teams all night," he said.

For that matter, Gasol can't get off the hook, either. On one second-half play in Game 2, Bryant was on the right side of the court near the 3-point arc and threw an entry pass in to Gasol. Gasol tried to lose Nowitzki, working his way back and forth, but he couldn't shed him. So Gasol passed out to Bryant. Bryant immediately fired the ball back in to Gasol. It was half encouragement, half admonishment. He trusted Gasol with the ball, but Kobe also didn't feel like bailing him out just because Gasol couldn't get off a shot.

It doesn't help that in the fourth quarter, when Bryant traditionally takes over and drives the Lakers home to victory, he has faltered. In Kobe's eight postseason games he has made 58 of 121 shots in the first three quarters (48 percent), including 10 of 23 (43 percent) 3-pointers. In the fourth quarter he is 10-for-31 (32 percent) and 2-for-10 on 3-pointers. Overall, the Lakers are making 46 percent of their shots in the first three quarters and 41 percent in the fourth quarter.

Fatigue has to be coming into play. The Lakers have played 75 postseason games since 2008. They're trying to become the first team to reach the NBA Finals four consecutive seasons since the 1980s, when the Lakers did it from 1982 to 1985 and the Celtics from 1984 to 1987. And they've got a tougher task than those teams. The Lakers played 67 postseason games in reaching the Finals from 2008 to 2010, compared to their counterparts playing 48 from 1982 to 1984. Why the difference? The first round was best of three until 1985, when it became best of five. Teams have been playing best-of-seven first-round series since 2003.

And it's starting to look like 2003 all over again. That year the Lakers were also coming off three consecutive Finals appearances. They also fell behind 2-0 in the conference semifinals, to the Spurs. They evened the series after winning the second set of games at home, and needed every last ounce of energy from the Staples Center crowd to do it. Kobe led a furious comeback on the road in Game 5, only to have the Lakers lose when Robert Horry's final 3-point attempt looked ready to go in, then rattled out. They came home for Game 6, fell behind again and just couldn't do anything about it, like a car engine that won't turn over. They lost by a score of 110-82.

Horry said he'd never been that exhausted in a season before.

"Your mind is telling you what to do," said Horry, who made only two of 38 3-pointers in those playoffs. "And you're body ain't doing it, man."

Kobe isn't closing the way he did in the past. Gasol isn't playing like an All-Star, or even like the best Gasol brother. Lamar Odom isn't playing like the Sixth Man of the Year. Even the players who haven't been around for all of the deep playoff runs, such as Steve Blake and Ron Artest, can't provide a boost.

Tired team. Weird vibes. Bad combination.