The Spurs are in a bad place right now.
Renowned in the basketball world for their ability to close out games, the Silver and Black are now finding ways to lose them. And the costly late-game breakdowns are starting to wear thin on their nerves.
"Psychologically, it starts to affect you," Spurs center Pau Gasol said. "That's why you've got to cut it off and make sure it doesn't snowball any more."
Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who finished with 18 points, hit three three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead basket with 42.2 seconds left, to rally the Los Angeles Lakers to a 116-112 victory over the reeling Spurs on Saturday night at the AT&T Center.
"Just a lot of effort," Ball said, when asked how the Lakers pulled out the victory. "We stuck with it the whole game."
San Antonio led by 17 midway through the third quarter and by 12 with 5:43 left before the Lakers ended the game on a 25-9 run. Ball sparked the rally, nailing 3 of 4 three-pointers in the fourth period. He got all of his points at the three-point line, making 6 of 10 attempts.
Ball also finished with 11 assists, seven rebounds and two blocks.
"Their guys just started making shots," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "Ball was amazing. He just got them back in the game, and in that same period we didn't make shots. So, that's why the 24-second clock is always a friend to whoever is behind. You just keep on playing."
PHOTOS: Spurs drop fourth straight after blowing lead vs. Lakers
The Lakers (28-34) didn't lead until forward Julius Randle, who led all scorers with 25 points, hit two free throws to put L.A. up 106-105 with 1:59 left. The victory was in the fifth in a row for L.A., which is 5-0 since the All-Star break.
It was another galling defeat for the Spurs, who have lost six of their last seven and gave up another double-digit lead when victory appeared to be in hand. The Silver and Black (36-27) fell to New Orleans 121-116 on Wednesday night after leading by 15.
"We didn't make enough plays on both ends to win the game," said Gasol, who led the Spurs with 19 points and 10 rebounds. "We allowed them, little by little, to come closer to the point they got the lead. Then they got confident and they said, 'We have nothing to lose,' and they started hitting threes left and right.
"So, tough one for us. Very, very tough way to lose a game that we had, for the most part, under control when we led most of the way. We did not come up with enough good defensive and offensive possessions down the stretch to be able to win. That hurts. It's a painful one."
The Lakers shot 54.5 percent (12/22) in the fourth quarter, and drained 5 of 10 three-pointers. Meanwhile, the Silver and Black sputtered, hitting only 9 of 24 (37.5 percent) attempts and making just 1 of 7 shots from beyond the arc.
"Tonight, we get a guy that doesn't really hit threes and he goes 6 for 10 from the three-point line, and he hits three huge threes down the stretch," Gasol said. "They say when it rains it pours, and it's pouring hard right now. It's pouring hard right on us."
Ball went into the game shooting 32 percent from the three-point line for the season, but he's improved to 44 percent since Jan. 1.
"We are not in a good stretch," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "Things are not happening. Sometimes it's frustrating because we bring it, we execute and we play hard, but then it's like a snowball.down the stretch. Some little things start to happen and it compounds. And, again, with LA (Aldridge) not on the court, we're missing something."
The Spurs played without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle. The Silver and Black lost their fourth consecutive home game for the first time since January 2002. The absence of All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, who has been limited to only nine games this season by a lingering quad injury, also continues to cast a big shadow on the team.
"Right now we're missing a couple of guys that are important, one that we've missed all year and another one that's had an incredible year in LaMarcus," Gasol said. "Down the stretch, when the games are close, the team is used to putting the ball in the hands of those players, and they're not there.
"Our margin of error is very, very small because of our situation and our dynamic right now. We've just got to minimize mistakes. We've got to be really sharp, as much as we can, so we put ourselves in better positions."
San Antonio, which has spent most of the season holding down third place in the Western Conference standings, fell to sixth with Saturday night's defeat. With 19 games left on their schedule. the Spurs could be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1996-97 season, when Tim Duncan was a senior at Wake Forest.
"Halfway through the season, we were aiming for the third spot," Ginobili said. "Now we are aiming for the playoffs. A lot of things changed."
The Spurs were wary of the Lakers, who took the first meeting between the teams 93-81 on Jan. 11 in Los Angeles. They cap their three-game season series April 4 in L.A.
Gasol called Monday night's home game against Memphis "a must win."
"There's no other way to approach that game," he said. "It's in our hands. We've got a must game against the Grizzlies coming up, then we have three very difficult games on the road against top teams in the West. No time to feel sorry for yourself. You've just got to go out there and compete, do your best."
After playing Memphis, the Silver and Black take on defending league champion Golden State, Oklahoma City and Houston in consecutive road games over a five-day period.
Isaiah Thomas finished with 21 points off the bench and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 18 for the Lakers.
Rudy Gay and Patty Mills finished with 15 and 14 points, respectively, for the Spurs. Ginobili (12), Dejounte Murray (12) and Davis Bertans (11) rounded out San Antonio's double-figure scoring.
Ginobili scored 10 points in the first half to help the Spurs take a 60-53 lead at the half. Ginobili was the only S.A. player in double figures through two quarters.