On the first night of the rest of their season, the Lakers without Kobe Bryant looked like Steve Blake's bright purple low-cut sneakers.

They were ungodly ugly, but delightfully fun. It's impossible to imagine them taking more than a few steps before splitting apart at their bubble gum seams, but it's going to be interesting to watch.

"Hey, you're talking about them, right?" said a smiling Blake.

He was referring to the shoes, but he could have been talking about the team, which defeated somnolent San Antonio, 91-86, Sunday to move within a breath of the playoffs.

It was their first game without Bryant, who underwent season-ending surgery Saturday to repair a torn Achilles' tendon.

It was a game marked by one question with two answers.

No Bryant? Big problems. The Lakers shot 37%, they seemed lost for long stretches, and they had no idea who would take the last heave at the end of a quarter or a shot clock. Pau Gasol was trying so hard, he missed 14 shots. Chris Duhon was so unsettled, in four minutes he made three turnovers. The Spurs rattled Dwight Howard with that cliché Hack-a-Dwight in the third quarter and held new Lakers floor leader Blake to a basket in the second half.

"A couple of guys forgot what they were doing,'' acknowledged Coach Mike D'Antoni.

No Bryant? Big dreams. The Staples Center fans cheered and rattled their noise sticks as if this were the real Lakers team playing a real Spurs team. Their inspired fellas held the Spurs to 37% shooting and outrebounded them by a dozen. Later, the Lakers bounced and beamed through the locker room as if they were a mid-major college team in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

"We're going to fight to the end," Howard said. "We have a chance to win, go to the playoffs, and make history.''

But that history will have to be made against teams more focused than these Spurs, who were missing Manu Ginobli and who only played Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter for scant minutes in the fourth quarter. Moments after the two starters left the game with 8:58 remaining, the Spurs tied the score, then stood around as the Lakers pulled away.