(AP) — After winning All-Star game MVP honors Sunday, Kobe Bryant jokingly claimed he couldn’t remember the Los Angeles Lakers’ last game before the break.
Many in the organization also would like to forget about that defeat, as well as the two before it.
An exciting All-Star weekend in Los Angeles may have helped that cause, though Bryant and the Lakers will still be trying to put an ugly stretch behind them when they host the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
Los Angeles (38-19) appeared to be headed in the right direction by winning the first four contests of a seven-game road trip leading into the break, but things quickly took a turn for the worse.
After losing to Orlando 89-75 last Sunday, the Lakers suffered a 20-point loss to Charlotte the following night. While those two lopsided defeats were discouraging, nothing was more embarrassing than losing to league-worst Cleveland 104-99 last Wednesday.
Bryant had 17 points on 8-of-24 shooting, Andrew Bynum missed 10 of 12 shots to finish with six points and Los Angeles had 19 turnovers, its most since Jan. 2.
“It’s back to the drawing board,” Lamar Odom said. “Defense. Cohesiveness. Our chemistry on offense. I’m not that worried. I think it’s things we can fix.”
Despite the lackluster play, the Lakers still own the Western Conference’s third-best record and a 9 1/2-game lead in the Pacific Division. General manager Mitch Kupchak is unlikely to make a trade before Thursday’s deadline, and he thought the humiliating loss to the Cavaliers might be a turning point.
“We have five days to think about it, and maybe that turns out to be a rallying point,” Kupchak said last Thursday. “Let’s see where it leads. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can climb up.”
Bryant didn’t talk to the media after the loss to Cleveland, and seemed to take out some of his frustration Sunday. He finished with 37 points and 14 rebounds to win his record-tying fourth All-Star MVP in front of the Staples Center crowd.
During All-Star weekend, Bryant and Pau Gasol, who had 17 points for the winning West team, discussed coming out strong for the stretch run.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Bryant said. “We’re up for the challenge. Pau and I have been talking this whole time about looking forward to it, and getting back at it.”
The unofficial second half of the season begins with a daunting schedule for the Lakers, who play eight of their next 11 games against teams currently in the playoff picture. This stretch includes road contests against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Miami and Dallas, as well as two matchups versus the Hawks.
The Lakers split the season series with Atlanta in 2009-10, with Bryant combining for 69 points in the two games.
Like Los Angeles, the Hawks (34-21) entered the break in a bit of a funk, losing to New York 102-90 on Wednesday. They’ve dropped three of four to fall one game back of Orlando for fourth in the East.
Two-time All-Star center Al Horford had 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Knicks, his third game after sitting out two with a bruised back. He had two points and three boards in 10 minutes Sunday, while Atlanta teammate Joe Johnson scored 11 for the East.
The rest of the Hawks will meet Horford and Johnson in Los Angeles, where they’ll begin a five-game trip against West teams. Atlanta has been outscored by an average of 15.2 points in losing four straight to the Lakers in Los Angeles.
This will be Los Angeles’ first game at Staples Center since losing to the Spurs 89-88 on Feb. 3.