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NAS-SHAQ: Taking stock of the Lakers

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It's been a rough year or two for the markets, which have dipped below the financial equivalent of the Mendoza line. At the same time, the three-time defending NBA champs, the Los Angeles , have seen their stock drop almost as badly. Put the two together and what do you get? The Nas-Shaq. We'll chart the champs' weekly progress in their uphill climb from that Christmas Day loss to the Sacramento toward the Western Conference playoffs. THE WEEK THAT WAS: It was a tale of two teams kind of week, with the best of times sandwiched around the worst of times. The began the week with a 108-94 win over the Washington that really only served as the necessary backdrop for and his record-setting 42 first-half points. They ended it with another double-digit win in front of the Staples Center faithful, beating the 110-94 behind 34 points and 11 rebounds from Shaquille O¿Neal. And in between those two home wins, the completely confounded everyone trying to figure out whether or not they have a legitimate shot at the four-peat, turning in a lackluster effort during a 21-point loss at Seattle. So which of these two squads is going to show up once the postseason starts? Your guess is as good as ours. THE WEEK AHEAD: L.A. could go a long way toward eliminating any lingering doubts (both on the part of their fans and within the organization itself) with two strong performances against the team with the NBA¿s best record, the Dallas . The Mavs should be sufficiently well-motivated, as they are desperately trying to hold off the San Antonio for the Midwest Division title and home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs. Also, the last time these two teams hooked up, L.A. spotted Dallas a 27-point lead after three quarters, only to provide the Mavs with a not-so-gentle reminder of who the three-time defending champs are in the form of a 44-15 fourth quarter. So those two games ¿ on Thursday and Tuesday ¿ should (and given the ¿ always-questionable state of mind, we can¿t emphasize the word should enough) have a postseason feel to them. In between those tests are two opponents that the would be wise not to overlook. L.A. takes on Friday in the always dangerous second of back-to-back games. The also host the on Sunday in a game that may mean more to Phoenix as far as postseason implications go. OUR ANALYSIS: The Los Angeles have won three straight NBA championships ¿ a run of success that coincided perfectly with Phil Jackson¿s arrival in . So how come we¿re betting Phil¿s next book isn¿t going to be entitled Zen and the Art of Superstar Handling? The last three years, the have used the final weeks of the season to fine-tune their rotation for the postseason. This season? They still don¿t seem completely sure about how to best use one of their top two players. Should they turn the offense over to Kobe, risking alienating their role players and hurting Shaq¿s oh-so-delicate feelings? Or do they try to rein in Bryant, knowing that it could lead to a performance like the one he turned in against the Sonics (5-of-13 from the field, 14 points)? Until Jackson figures it out, we¿d suggest the LAPD hold off on investing in additional riot gear.
  • Tagged: Lakers, Suns, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kobe Bryant, Memphis, Washington, Southern California

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