Lakers coming up small against NBA's best

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

The Los Angeles Lakers have the NBA's fifth-best record and a huge lead in the Pacific Division. It's what they don't have that might be cause for concern.

After fading in the fourth quarter of a 109-96 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, the two-time defending champions are just 1-4 this season against the four teams above them in the overall standings.

Throw in the Dallas Mavericks, who are even with them in the loss column, and the Lakers have just one win in six games against the probable main contenders for their crown.

What does all of this mean to Los Angeles (33-15), a playoff-tested two-time champion near the midway point of another grinding regular season? According to the Lakers, who host Houston on Tuesday night, not a whole lot.

''It happens. When you win, teams gun for you,'' Lamar Odom said after Monday's practice at the Lakers' training complex. ''You've got to be prepared to defend yourselves at all times. We've got to understand that when they beat us, it makes their day.''

The Lakers flopped in their Christmas Day showcase against Miami, and they couldn't keep up with the Celtics. Even Kobe Bryant noticed after scoring 41 points against Boston, saying the Lakers must ''elevate our level'' to compete with the rest of the league elite.

''Teams are coming in with a little more energy,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ''This is a two-time champion team. We really have a lot to defend, and we're not going out there and doing the right job about defending our home court, there's no doubt.''

NBA-leading San Antonio visits Staples Center on Thursday for the Lakers' final home date before a seven-game road trip. The Spurs already are 7 1/2 games ahead of the Lakers for homecourt advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, which could direct the Lakers' path to a third title through San Antonio.

The Lakers also have seven home losses, including embarrassing efforts against Milwaukee, Memphis, Indiana and lowly Sacramento last Friday. That's the same number of losses they had at Staples Center all last season.

Some Lakers fans are panicking after watching Bryant's one-man show fall miserably flat against the Celtics in Los Angeles' fourth loss in seven games overall. The Lakers realize they haven't risen to their biggest challenges this season, but they're confident there's still time to get it together.

Jackson doesn't get concerned when his Lakers lose to the NBA's best. He worries when they lose to the Kings, as they did last Friday in pitiful fashion, or the Grizzlies, who have beaten them twice this season.

''It's probably more of a disappointment to me that we haven't taken care of the teams that we should take care of,'' Jackson said. ''The inconsistency is what bothers me the most. ... (But) we have two years of pretty good records in the playoffs, don't we? That's what makes me optimistic.''

Staples Center had an atmosphere fit for a playoff game on Sunday, but only the Celtics fed from it. The Lakers acknowledge Boston played with all the energy and urgency they lacked, reducing Los Angeles to its least effective form.

While Bryant attempted to hoist Los Angeles on his shoulders in the fourth quarter, taking nearly every shot during a long string of possessions, his teammates were shut down by the Celtics. Seven-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum both struggled, while Ron Artest added perhaps the worst game yet to his dismal season, going 1 for 10 and getting shredded on defense by Paul Pierce.

''Obviously, we're not going through our best time,'' said Gasol, who scored 12 points. ''But luckily for us, it's halfway through the season, so we still have time to make up for the losses that we have. We've got to step it up.''

Jackson said Artest struggled through a bruise from a collision with another player's knee early in Sunday's game. Bynum skipped Monday's practice to work with team trainers on his sore left knee, which bothered him against the Celtics.

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