Why Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers Are the Biggest Sleepers in the NBA

John CarterContributor IIIMarch 30, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 22:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a play during the game against the New Orleans Hornets in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs at the New Orleans Arena  on April 22, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The seemingly dominant Los Angeles Lakers, who have terrorized the league in a little over half of the last decade, fell to the Oklahoma Thunder last night in an embarrassing loss.

What once was the annual favorite to win it all in June became an old, tired and outmatched team. Their record drops to 31 wins and 20 losses, and their home record drops to third-best in the Western Conference, at 20-5.

What's even more glaring is the fact that the Lakers are a horrid 11-15 on the road.

Yes, Kobe Bryant is playing extremely well for a 33-year-old, but he has lost a step and isn't the scorer he once was. 28.2 points per game is great, but not with 42 percent efficiency. His "seven out of 20-something" games have shot the Lakers out of more games than I can imagine.

Pau Gasol reminds me of the 2008 version against the KG-Perkins tandem, and Metta World Peace is embarrassing Ron Artest. The bench still looks like a starting five for a lottery team in the D-league.

To put it simply, the critics have found a feast of issues to bombard the Lakers and put the fans down. Experts frequently pick Oklahoma or San Antonio to come out the West. Despite some of the hopelessness in Lakerland, some still believe in their team. Some still believe in a man named Kobe Bryant.

Some still believe that the Los Angeles Lakers will still win it all this year. 

One of those optimistic losers is me.

I still have the gut feeling that the Lakers have what it takes to run the West. The Lakers are still a talented bunch, besides losing two key bench players (Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom) before the season started.

Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant, just with a worse shooting percentage. Pau Gasol is still Pau Gasol, just a bit older. Andrew Bynum is emerging as a dominant force in the NBA, taking Gasol's spot as the best big man on the Lakers. Nobody in the world has a better frontcourt than the one here in Los Angeles, and I'm not talking about those hop-heads Blake and DeAndre.

Our point guard position went from Derek Fisher to Ramon Sessions. Metta World Peace and Matt Barnes looked like they stepped up their games from last year, and Steve Blake is finally backing up a worthy point guard. Oh and you might not have heard, but we also have the closest thing to Michael Jordan in that guy named Kobe Bryant. 

There are many things to take from the Thunder and Lakers game last night, in which the Thunder ran away with it in the third quarter.

You could take away the fact that the Thunder destroyed the Lakers in the second half. You could also say that the Thunder exhausted the older Lakers. Or you could even say that our second-unit frontcourt is the worst in the league (Kendrick Perkins 10 points in the third).

What I choose to see, however, is the bright side. I am an optimist and what I saw in the Lakers loss was hope.

In the first quarter, Los Angeles held them down to 18 points en route to a 30-point outburst by L.A. THAT is how the Lakers play when they're determined and focused. The Lakers showed spirited team play, and exhibited great defense. Kobe didn't shoot them out of the game yet, and Gasol was aggressive. Bynum also showed that he was just plain unstoppable.

With arguably the best defensive frontcourt in the league, Bynum put up 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 13 rebounds. Metta World Peace showed that he still had that Ron Artest defense, holding Durantula to 21 points on 10-of-22 shooting. Ramon Sessions just needs a bit more time to adjust to his surroundings. Overall, this squad could get it all together by the time the Playoffs start, which will be bad for the rest of the league.

With so many experts ruling out the Lakers to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June, the Lakers have been too quiet in championship talks this year. So many experts forget that we have a top-10 basketball player of all time on this team,and that the Lakers starting lineup has improved greatly. Let's face it, nobody expects the Lakers to come out on top.

This makes the Lakers the biggest sleepers in the league, and it gives the Lakers a major advantage; the underdog status. Never would I have imagined Kobe Bryant and his Lakers be the underdogs. Can you imagine Kobe Bryant an underdog? The will and desire in his heart would be bone-chilling.