- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Six weeks ago the Lakers rolled into Charlotte full of hope. Kobe Bryant was in his fourth game back after Achilles’ surgery and seemingly finding his rhythm with every game. He needed to adjust to his teammates, and they to him. But it was coming, one way or another, in the next few weeks.
Bryant led the team to a win against the Bobcats that night in December with a vintage fourth-quarter performance, making clutch shot after clutch shot. Pau Gasol even looked more engaged after struggling to embrace his role and complaining publicly earlier in the week.
That was a six weeks ago.
To say things have changed a bit since then is a vast understatement. Honestly, you don’t even need to say anything. Bryant fractured a bone in his knee two games later and hasn’t played since. The Lakers have fallen off the map and almost into the cellar of the Western Conference without Bryant and virtually every point guard with which they started the season.
The Bobcats (21-27) have treaded water but find themselves in a playoff contention in the weak Eastern Conference.
Friday night they met again and continued along the same trajectory. Charlotte rode Al Jefferson to a 110-100 win over the listless Lakers (16-31).
Jefferson crushed L.A. in every which way possible, scoring 40 points on 18-for-32 shooting and grabbing 18 rebounds. Gerald Henderson added 20 points and former Lakers player Ramon Sessions had nine points and 13 assists.
How it happened: The Bobcats outscored the Lakers 31-22 in the second quarter and never really looked back. The Lakers made a little run at the end of the third quarter, cutting the lead to 86-74 on Ryan Kelly’s four-point play, but this one really wasn’t close. Charlotte dominated inside, held the Lakers to 38 percent shooting and led by as many as 20 points in the second half.
What it means: The Lakers have consoled themselves by how hard they’ve competed during this rough patch. Friday night the effort was there, it just wasn’t very effective. You’re not going to win many games shooting 38 percent and allowing the other team to shoot 52 percent on their way to 64 points in the paint.
Hits: Jodie Meeks has found his game. Night in and night out, Meeks is bringing it these days. The sharpshooting guard had another 19 points on Friday night. Pau Gasol led L.A. with 24 points and nine rebounds.
Misses: Nick Young finished with 21 points, but continued to struggle with his shot, making just 8-of-22 attempts Friday.
Stat of the game: 64. That’s the number of points in the paint the Bobcats scored Friday night. The Lakers had just 38. It’s hardly the first time that’s happened this year, but that kind of margin is still staggering.
Up next: The Lakers will take Saturday off before gearing up to go back out on the road next week. There’s a chance injured guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake will be back for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. Jordan Farmar is said to be a little behind them. Any help would be a boon to the undermanned Lakers as they head out next week, with additional contests in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
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5dChad Ford and Kevin Pelton