LOS ANGELES: And then only one remained.
Jack Nicholson was back in his courtside seat and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sat across the way. There was a playoff atmosphere for a home team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since before North West was born.
Kobe Bryant’s penultimate game at Staples Center had all the trappings of the nights that sparkled over the course of 20 years, even if the Lakers continued to hit new lows in a 91-81 loss to the Clippers (50-28).
The loss was their 62nd of the season, a team record to eclipse last year’s 61. With one more loss, the Lakers will lock up the second-worst record in the draft lottery, and the 55.8 percent chance of keeping their lottery pick that comes with such futility.
Bryant was met with thunderous cheers, the loudest yet, when he checked out with 27 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. He had made a few turnaround jumpers from the baseline en route to 17 points.
“It’s weird to say it felt the same, but I’ve been trying to take it all in for a while now,” Bryant said. “You could feel the energy in the crowd. There’s one game left. It’s kind of crazy.”
Forward Julius Randle set a career high with 20 rebounds.
The Lakers lost for the second time in two nights to the Clippers – and the 11th straight time overall – a reminder of just how dramatically things have flipped in L.A.
Anything the Lakers can do, the Clippers can do much, much better.
A night earlier, the Clippers beat the Lakers 103-81.
Blake Griffin finished with 13 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes, his most encouraging performance since returning from injury and suspension.
DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick each scored 15 points to lead the Clippers.
A night earlier, Lakers coach Byron Scott questioned his team’s effort, especially as it relates to Bryant’s final games, saying he hates “to see him go out this way.”
“Unfortunately this is the way it’s going to be,” Scott said Tuesday. “It bothers the hell out of me that somebody who’s given 20 years to this league and has played through broken fingers, come back from the Achilles’, come back from the shoulder surgery, and he still goes out there and gives it everything he has.
“That bothers me.”
It was Lakers Fan Appreciation Night, an annual fixture for the last home game of the season. But this season that particular evening, next Wednesday, will be devoted solely to the appreciation of Bryant.
The Lakers play at New Orleans, Houston and Oklahoma City before Wednesday’s sendoff against the Jazz.
The Clippers played without key rotation players Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson, who all rested. With Griffin back in the mix, the Clippers were nearing full strength.
That was threatened, however, near the end of the third quarter when veteran forward Jeff Green’s right knee collided with the knee of Lakers center Tarik Black. Green stayed on the court for several minutes before walking off under his own control.
He was diagnosed with a right knee contusion.
Scott said the anticipation of Bryant’s final game has been a challenge for the Lakers’ young players such as Randle and D’Angelo Russell, who scored 13 points in 35 minutes.
“This is a lot of stuff going on and they’re young,” Scott said.
Scott said they are still digesting all of the basketball information and instruction he has thrown at them this season “along with everything else that’s gone on.”
He said, “Now that we’re winding down, it’s even more off a focus on KB’s last game. I think all that. I think all that attention and focus is probably affecting them a little bit.”