The Los Angeles Lakers insisted they weren’t concerned after losing four straight tight games earlier this season. Their recent play might offer more reason to hit the panic button.

The Lakers’ last four losses have come by 15 points or more, a concerning trend they’ll try to stop Tuesday night as they continue a busy stretch against the visiting Detroit Pistons.

Los Angeles (23-11) is 10-9 since a 13-2 start, with a 2-4 record since Dec. 21 considerably more alarming than four straight defeats by 10 points or fewer from Nov. 26-Dec. 1. Los Angeles’ last four losses have come by an average of 17.3 points, with a 104-85 no-show Sunday against Memphis the team’s third at Staples Center in that span.

“We’re not really playing together, and as a result, it’s costing us,” center Andrew Bynum said. “Right now, we’ve got to be concerned. We have to be. … Good teams are looking at us like we’re soft.”

Whether the Lakers are soft is debatable, but at the very least they seem tired. A 97-82 loss at San Antonio last Tuesday began of a stretch of 13 games in 21 days, hardly what a team whose top six players have been in the league for an average of nearly 12 seasons needs.

“We’ve just got to come out focused and ready to play,” Kobe Bryant said. “It’s tough when you have to try to regenerate that energy every single night. It starts individually. You have to look at yourself and try to find things to get you going.”

Los Angeles has averaged just 88.5 points in its last six games, but coach Phil Jackson thinks a better effort defensively will help overcome those offensive struggles.

The Lakers are 12-1 when they allow 94 points or fewer.

“We have to respond with better energy defensively, getting back on defense especially after turnovers,” Jackson told the Lakers’ official website.

“We’re not surprised that (trying to three-peat) has taken a toll. It’s (just) about coming back and finding your way again.”

Perhaps a meeting with Detroit (11-23) will help. The Lakers had no problem putting away the Pistons in a Nov. 17 trip to The Palace, getting 33 points from Bryant and 25 from Pau Gasol in a 103-90 win in which they led by as many as 26.

Los Angeles is 16-3 when Gasol scores at least 18 points and 7-8 when he goes for 17 or fewer.

The Pistons have lost 11 of 12 on the road. Entering Monday’s visit to Utah they’d dropped their seven games against opponents currently above .500 by an average of 14.3 points.

Detroit led the Jazz by a point after three quarters but couldn’t hang on, falling 102-97 despite 26 points from Tayshaun Prince.

“We haven’t really put together consistently four quarters,” said Tracy McGrady, who finished one rebound shy of a triple-double. “We play well for a half or three quarters, but then we always have that quarter that lets us down.”

Though the Pistons have lost four straight against the Lakers by double digits, they didn’t have Prince for two of those meetings.

Facing Los Angeles seems to bring out the best in Prince. His 19.1 scoring average against the Lakers since 2004-05 is easily his best against any opponent.

Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.


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