Small consolations

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- The Raptors are presumably past the stage of taking moral victories out of losses.

But playing the NBA's runaway train, otherwise known as the Los Angeles Lakers, staying within 10 points most of the night and denying Kobe Bryant a milestone provided a small sense of accomplishment last evening at the Staples Center.

Toronto began a difficult three-game western trip falling 112-99 against a Lakers team that is secretly looking ahead to a Christmas Day rematch of the final with the Boston Celtics. Without the injured Jermaine O'Neal to counter L.A.'s size and with the Lakers' Andrew Bynum holding Chris Bosh to 12 points amid perfect team harmony at the end of a five-game homestand, the Raptors were road kill.

"Chris got some good looks early and they knocked them down, but I thought we did a lot of good things," coach Sam Mitchell said. "Every time they made a run at us, we responded. As the game got chippy, we showed a lot of toughness.

"We're playing the best team in the NBA on their court and we have to get in there and do the things we do best, defend and play transition basketball."

Anthony Parker had 19 points for Toronto, four off his season high. Jose Calderon had 12 points and 12 assists and Andrea Bargnani had 11 rebounds and 14 points.

But the Raptors still must dread getting on the plane for these trips as they took a combined three-year record of 2-16 out here against the Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz. Wait, it gets worse, as they're 9-27 against those teams since joining the NBA in 1995 and 14-110 when you add their road numbers against Sacramento, Portland, Dallas, Golden State, Houston, the L.A. Clippers, Seattle/Oklahoma City and San Antonio.

Parker had the most difficult assignment of all, starting against NBA MVP Bryant.

Even though Bryant is the most dissected player in the game, moreso after last year's run to the final and the Olympics, Parker cracked: "I wouldn't say it gets any easier. Like everything, you just have to work hard and expect help from others. But Kobe's going to get his points. You just have to try to keep him off the line and try to make him a volume shooter."

Parker, Jamario Moon and a couple of other Raptors wound up facing Bryant as the game wore on. Bryant had 81 points in a 2006 game against the Raptors, but was looking for just 38 last night to become the youngest player in NBA history to reach 22,000 for his career. At 30 years and 99 days, he had one night to get it done before Wilt Chamberlain, who did it at 30/100.

He closed the half with three buckets and made it to 21 points, but was out of the picture much of the second half and had just two more.

Bryant's scoring actually is down this season to 24.5 a game, reflecting L.A.'s increased overall offence and its near unblemished record.

"It's important for us to keep our eye on the prize and understand that we need to continue to get better," Bryant said recently. "That's the key. It's not just about winning games. It's about getting better and winning games."

Motivation could have been a problem the past three games with three .500 teams on tap, the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Toronto and three more coming up the Indiana Pacers , Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards.

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REPLAY

O'NEAL HURTING

Coach Sam Mitchell said injured centre Jermaine O'Neal was "about 50-50" to start last night and about half an hour later took him out of the lineup. That's three consecutive games missed by O'Neal, who is having knee and ankle woes, putting the Raptors in a bind at both ends of the court.

There's no word yet on whether he'll play later in the trip.

EARLY RETURNS

The Raptors led 20-19 at one stage of the first quarter, but with the Raptors struggling on offence as well as being out-rebounded they wound up giving up a season-high 34 points in the opening frame.


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