The Lakers are a half-game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the best record in the NBA, gaining ground even with Kobe Bryant missing the last five games with a sprained left ankle.
But in the Lakers’ own Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets lurk, having pulled to within five games of L.A. for the best record in the West after beating the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
Even though the Nuggets have defeated the Lakers twice this season and have the attitude that they can compete with and may even be as good as the Lakers, Los Angeles isn’t looking behind at Denver.
Rather, the Lakers are more concerned with themselves.
They didn’t practice Sunday, but the Lakers got some good news when Bryant practiced Saturday and said his hope is to play Tuesday when they visit Memphis. The Lakers are 4-1 without Bryant.
“Some of these guys’ sentiment is that they think Utah is going to outplay Denver,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “They are right there, aren’t they?”
The Nuggets hold a half-game lead over the Jazz, who won at Portland on Sunday night.
“So we really can’t pick out Denver or Utah or Dallas,” Jackson said. “We just have to say we have to keep winning and just go through there. And then you let fall what may in the playoffs and go from there. It’s altogether different once you get to the playoffs.”
Derek Fisher said they are looking ahead and not behind them.
They’ll see the Nuggets on Sunday at Staples Center.
“We’re all aware of what other teams are doing around the league, how teams are playing and who’s playing well collectively and individually,” Fisher said. “We’re aware of how Denver is playing and how other teams are competing. But we know until you play that team, there isn’t much you can do about it but focus on yourself.”
On the road again
The Lakers have 26 regular-season games left, 16 on the road — although one is a Clippers home game at Staples Center.
The Lakers will face some tough opponents, starting Tuesday in Memphis, where they lost to the Grizzlies this month. They also play the Mavericks on Wednesday night in a back-to-back game.
March will be the toughest month for the Lakers, who’ll play 11 of 15 games on the road.
They’ll play at such venues as Miami, Charlotte, Orlando, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Atlanta, all jockeying for playoff positions.
So the four days the Lakers will have had off since they last played Thursday night is a good thing before they hit the road.
“We’re looking forward to it, actually,” Jackson said. “It’s a time for us to kind of bond and to get out there and play our best ball.”
Bryant the closer
Bryant watched in the locker room when the Lakers lost to Boston on a last-second shot Thursday night. The Lakers inbounded the ball with 2.2 seconds left, only to see Fisher miss the shot Bryant normally takes.
Bryant said Luke Walton said the next time he’s injured, he should sit on the bench with his uniform on and be ready to go in like Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.