CHICAGO — The Lakers found a new way to lose, if that's even possible anymore.
They played well enough for 52 minutes and 59.1 seconds but the final 0.9 was a killer for them, an inbounds pass leading to an open layup that meant a 102-100 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls at United Center.
It was a bizarre play, too easy after the Lakers fought admirably long, but Manny Harris, the newest Lakers addition, received instruction from the Lakers' bench to line up on what would be the wrong side of Chicago forward Taj Gibson as Mike Dunleavy inbounded the ball from under the Bulls' basket.
Harris guarded Gibson near the free-throw line but stood closer to the top of the key than the basket, allowing Gibson to cut down unimpeded, take Dunleavy's pass and beat a late-arriving Pau Gasol.
"We didn't know exactly what was going to happen," said Harris, who signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers last Thursday. "At the last second, we switched and had me check the top of the key just in case someone popped out. So once I did that, Taj got wide open."
This strange season is getting stranger for the Lakers (16-26).
Gasol seemed especially hurt by the loss, maybe because he had a near-perfect game, becoming the first Lakers player since Shaquille O'Neal in 2001 to finish with at least 20 points, 19 rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals.
"You don't lose a game in one play, but to lose a game like that with a layup still hurts," Gasol said in a downtrodden voice. "Tough way to lose a game that we worked hard for."
Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni substituted the taller Harris on the final play for point guard Kendall Marshall.
"It wasn't his fault. It was the team's fault," D'Antoni said.
Nick Young had another significant game, scoring 31 points in 43 minutes, including a 17-footer from the right baseline to tie the score with six seconds left in overtime.
Kobe Bryant liked that one, smiling from the bench and repeatedly showing the "count it" sign with two of his right fingers.
But nobody accounted for Gibson in the final second or reserve guard D.J. Augustin the rest of the night (27 points, five of seven from three-point range).
Bryant hoped the Lakers had turned a corner, crediting their improved play to Young calling out teammates for not backing him up in a skirmish last Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns.
"Things had just kind of been cruising along and skating along and I think the altercation in Phoenix kind of brought things to a head a little bit, saying 'This is not OK, things need to change,'" Bryant said before tip-off.
"If you're upset about something, you need to be upset about it instead of trying to sweep it under the rug."
Of course the Lakers then got swept around by Chicago in the final second of overtime.
Maybe it's why Bryant wasn't optimistic enough to predict the Lakers would make the playoffs.
"I don't know. I have no clairvoyant powers whatsoever," he said.
Bryant won't be back from a fractured knee until at least early February.
It's not long from now, but who knows how far the Lakers will have fallen by then.
Twitter: @Mike_BresnahanCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun