SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were on the bench before the final horn, and not because of their bad shooting nights. That's how easy it was for the San Antonio Spurs.
On the other end, Kobe Bryant was also out of the game early. That's how bad it's getting for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Tony Parker scored 23 points and the Spurs, backing up their NBA-best record against the defending champions, beat a still-frustrated Bryant and the reeling Lakers 97-82 on Tuesday night.
``It's always great to beat the champion,' Ginobili said.
The Spurs improved to 27-4, and if there are any doubts about that record being inflated, they can likely put those to rest this week. Next up is Dallas, one of the only teams to beat them this season, followed by games against Oklahoma City, New York and Boston.
The Lakers, meanwhile, can't seem to beat anyone.
It was another humiliation for the Lakers, who lost a week ago by 19 at home to lowly Milwaukee. That was followed by letting LeBron James and the Miami Heat leave the Staples Center with another easy victory on Christmas Day, in one of the highest-rated televised NBA games in recent years.
Bryant railed on his team's lack of focus following the Heat loss, but had a more quiet disappointment after the Spurs became the third straight team to crush the Lakers.
Bryant had 21 points on 8-of-27 shooting, at one point missing 13 shots in a row. He answered questions in clipped sentences before saying he was confident the Lakers can steer out of their stunning tailspin.
``I'm just (mad) at myself,' Bryant said. ``(Mad) I didn't play well.'
He wasn't the only one on the Lakers. Bryant alluded to Derek Fisher's technical foul, after getting into a confrontation with Richard Jefferson, about the attitude throughout the team.
The Lakers dropped to 21-10, marking the first time since 2007 they've reached 10 losses this early.
``We're all moody,' Bryant said. ``Fish got a tech today and he's the basketball version of Barack Obama. Everybody's a little moody right now.'
DeJuan Blair had 17 points and 15 rebounds, leading an unlikely Spurs cast that buried the Lakers in the fourth. Jefferson scored 17 points and George Hill had 10 while the Spurs coasted toward the end, almost remarkably, while Duncan and Ginobili were reduced to non-factors on offense.
Duncan was 1 of 7 from the field and had two points. Ginobili made only 3 of 12, finishing with nine points.
``It means Tony Parker was amazing tonight,' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum had 10 points apiece for the Lakers. When the buzzer sounded, Bryant was the first off the bench and headed back to the locker room.
It's only December, but Bryant hasn't treated the slump as a mere blip.
After James and Dwyane Wade coasted to a 14-point win in Los Angeles on Saturday, Bryant seethed over a second straight home loss. He said it was as though the games ``mean more to our opponents than they do us' and grumbled over the focus of the two-time defending champs.
Bryant came out like he was trying to set an example. He scored eight of the Lakers' first 10 points - all within the first 3 minutes - and attempted 10 shots in the first quarter alone.
Covered by Hill in the second quarter, Bryant drew his third technical foul in three games when the two confronted each other under the basket. They continued talking back to the other end of the court.
``I just wanted him to know that you might be an NBA All-Star and the MVP, but I won't back down from anybody,' Hill said.
For all that intensity, Bryant had a miserable night.
After making four of his first five shots, Bryant missed 13 shots in a row and turned the ball over four times. The slump finally ended with 4:44 left in the third quarter on a wide-open 3-pointer.
The Spurs' stars weren't faring any better. But they had help.
Duncan and Ginobili were a combined 1 for 13 in the first half, with the Argentine clanking four 3-pointers and Duncan unable to finish near the rim against Pau Gasol.
Notes: It was a rare sellout at the AT&T Center, which has seldom been packed this season despite the historic franchise start for the Spurs. ... Sixteen other teams in NBA history had as good or better record as the Spurs through 31 games, most recently the 2007-08 Boston Celtics (28-3).
The Associated Press News Service
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