The Los Angeles Lakers enjoyed the first half of their six-game stretch against the Eastern Conference much better than the second.
Los Angeles tries to end a three-game losing streak on Tuesday night when it hosts a Seattle SuperSonics team that has dropped four straight.
The Lakers (7-6) began their string of games against the East by beating Detroit, Chicago and Indiana by an average of 20 points. But after road losses to Milwaukee and Boston, Los Angeles returned home and blew a 12-point halftime lead in falling 102-100 to New Jersey on Sunday.
The Nets led by as many as 12 in the fourth quarter, but Kobe Bryant had a chance to tie the game after getting fouled shooting a 3-pointer with six seconds to play. Bryant made the first two free throws, giving him 15 points for the quarter and 31 in the game, but his final attempt went in and out, preserving the win for New Jersey.
"The start of the fourth quarter we didn't execute properly, they jumped out to a huge lead on us and it was an uphill battle from the point forward," said Bryant, who had made 15 straight free throws before his final miss. "They made some adjustments, we had to counter that ... but we just didn't do it enough in time to stop the bleeding."
Los Angeles is one of the league's highest-scoring teams, averaging 105.2 points. Bryant aside, a good chunk of the team's points lately had been coming from the bench, which scored 73 points - the most from Laker reserves in more than 19 years - during a 106-78 win against Chicago Nov. 18. But during the three-game losing streak, the bench has combined for just 86 points - only 20 against the Nets.
"I thought our bench could have brought us back into this game, but they just weren't up to the task tonight," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They made real poor decisions and gave us a 10-point deficit in a matter of four minutes (in the fourth quarter)."
Seattle (2-12), meanwhile, has lost four in a row and began the season 0-8 before winning consecutive games in Miami and Atlanta. In their 12 losses, the Sonics have rarely been close, falling by an average of 11.4 points.
Like the Lakers, the Sonics lost a close home game to the Nets recently, 98-93 on Friday. Seattle then hosted San Antonio on Sunday, and after being tied 64-64 at the half, scored just 37 points in the second half on its way to a 116-101 defeat.
"The way we played (Sunday) is good enough to beat lesser teams. It's not good enough to beat the Spurs," first-year Sonics coach P.J. Carlesimo said.
Star rookie Kevin Durant had his best day shooting as a pro, going 11-for-17 on his way to 25 points. Wally Szczerbiak led the Sonics with 27 points off the bench, but San Antonio grabbed 10 more rebounds than Seattle and picked up its defense after halftime.
"Each game we learn more and more," said Durant, whose 18.9 points lead the team. "I'm just excited for the next game and I hope that we'll get out there in L.A. and execute and get a 'W'."
The Sonics allow 108.6 points and commit 17.4 turnovers per game, two of the five worst totals in the league.
Bryant averaged 48.0 points in a pair of wins against the Sonics in April to help Los Angeles take three of four in the season series, including both meetings at Staples Center.
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