But for the San Antonio Spurs, it's still a win over the Lakers.
Tim Duncan had 25 points and 13 rebounds, and the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers 105-85 on Tuesday night. But the Spurs were well aware these weren't the same defending NBA champions they spent the offseason trying to keep up with.
"We needed this one," Duncan said. "Obviously they're dealing with some injuries, and Kobe doesn't play in the fourth quarter or whatever it may be, but it's a great win for us. We'll take it where we can get it."
Bryant had 16 points and attempted a season-low 10 field goals before leaving in the third quarter after injuring his back in the first half. He said he's "pretty sure" he will play Wednesday at Dallas.
"I could barely move," Bryant said. "I tried to orchestrate some things for my team, couldn't walk. I literally couldn't walk. It's the only way I don't play."
Bryant is already trying to overcome a broken right index finger that has hampered his shooting of late. In a win over Milwaukee on Sunday, Bryant scored 12 on 4-of-21 shooting. He continued wearing a splint over the finger against the Spurs.
Andrew Bynum scored 23 points, and Ron Artest had 13 but sprained his right index finger during the game. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Artest is day-to-day, and said Gasol has set his sights on returning Friday against the Clippers.
Los Angeles has lost three of four - its worst slump yet by the standards of the NBA's best team. But banged-up or not, Bryant is not tolerating any excuses for the Lakers.
"It's part of the business," Bryant said. "I won't allow my guys to even think about that or have that attitude."
Tony Parker scored 22 points for the Spurs, who didn't exactly celebrate the victory afterward despite getting a rare win against a strong opponent. The Lakers are just the fourth winning team San Antonio has beaten this season, but none the caliber of the defending NBA champions.
Richard Jefferson, who scored 12 points, said the Lakers' injuries didn't dampen the victory since the Spurs saw it as just another win.
"We know [the Lakers] will be a much different team, a much better team when the playoffs start. So will we," Jefferson said. "We're not overly excited about the win, so I don't know what's to be dampened."
The Spurs and Lakers dominated the last decade, winning seven titles between them. In the first meeting of this decade, the Lakers whittled a 22-point deficit to six midway through the fourth but the Spurs finished on a 18-5 burst.
"I thought they played poorly," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I thought when you get down by six points, you turn the ball over twice in situations like that, you're just giving the game away. There's no excuse for that."
Few teams have been hotter over the last month than San Antonio. The Spurs are 14-4 since Dec. 9, trailing only Cleveland (15-4) for the best record over that stretch.
None of those wins may have been as satisfying as this one. The Spurs (23-13) have built their winning record on the backs of weak competition, going 19-2 against teams with losing records. But they've wilted consistently against winning teams, including a loss Friday against Dallas.
But the Spurs had been looking forward to this litmus test. They spent lavishly last summer for the unsaid purpose of keeping up with the Lakers, and here was a chance to show if they got their money's worth.
Instead, their older investments led this win. Duncan was 12 of 19 from the field while Parker shot 10 of 18. Parker scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
"Obviously Kobe didn't play the fourth, but a win is a win," Parker said. "We'll take it."
- F Luke Walton (pinched nerve, back) made his first appearance in nearly eight weeks, scoring four points and grabbing a rebound in six minutes.
- With the loss, the Lakers were denied their first crack at becoming the only NBA franchise with 3,000 victories. They'll try again Wednesday at Dallas.