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Pivot Points: The LA Lakers' Biggest Foe May Be the Image in the Mirror

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IDecember 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 06:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers is congratulated by teammate Ron Artest #37 after scoring a basket  against the Phoenix Suns during the first quarter at Staples Center on December 6, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

After witnessing the Los Angeles Lakers' latest blow-out victory against the Phoenix Suns, several realizations dawned upon me. One was that the Suns were horribly over-matched, and another was that the only team that could prevent the Lakers from repeating might be the Lakers themselves.

Regarding the Suns being over-matched, that's without question. There was simply no place on the court where Phoenix was able to establish an advantage. Even Steve Nash looked pretty normal in the face of the Laker defense.

Defense. Saying that word and consistently relating it to the Lakers seems to be a little out of the ordinary (at least before this season), but it seems that the men in purple and gold have finally grasped the concept.

With the exception of a fourth quarter break-down against the Miami Heat, the Lakers have been playing a suffocating brand of defense since the return of Pau Gasol.

They have been tenacious, aggressive, relentless and consistent. Consistent is what really stands out, because Los Angeles has always been capable of playing great defense; only in spurts.

If the Lakers are somehow able to maintain the vestiges of their current defense, what team in the NBA is capable of beating them in a seven game series?

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Not many, especially if you consider that the Lakers may have one of the most dominant offenses that the NBA has seen in quite some time.

This Los Angeles team is able to get double digit scoring performances from their top six players. More importantly, they play unselfishly and in rhythm, operating the triangle offense to its highest degree of efficiency.

In my series Five Potholes On the Road To A Repeat, I analyzed every team that I perceived to be a threat to the Lakers' chances of a repeat, but failed to include what may be their biggest adversary: complacency.

Any real Laker follower has been accustomed to their tendency to play down to the level of their opponent, but that quality has been absent for most of this season.

That's not to say that it won't return, and if it does then the Lakers would have to hold themselves accountable for doing what no other team may be able to do.

Last season's championship should be evidence enough. If not, look no further than 2008 to see that this is a team that was constructed for the post-season.

Los Angeles prefers to play at a high tempo, but have players that are comfortable performing at a tedious and grinding pace. This is often what you see in the playoffs when the game slows down.

Any team that the Lakers would face in the Western Conference edition of the playoffs would have little to no chance of advancing; it would be next to impossible to induce the Lakers to run if they didn't want to.

No other team, not San Antonio, and not Denver, have post players that are capable of trading baskets with Los Angeles and no one else has the breakdown ability of Kobe Bryant, should all else falter.

The Eastern Conference has better defensive teams, but they lack the offensive ammunition to counter the various options that Los Angeles will throw at them. They can score, but not nearly enough.

I am led to this conclusion: the Lakers' most viable foe may not be found on the court, but within themselves, if they don't take time to heed the ominous warnings around them.

Their nine game winning streak is great, but the level of competition does matter and the fact that 17 out of their first 21 games are played at the Staples Center cannot be taken for granted.

The Lakers have taken great strides but have to remember that 40 percent of their home games will have been played after the next two. The road and stiffer competition beckon.

They would also do well to pay no heed to the media and fans who have all but assured themselves of a repeat trip to the Finals, ending with another banner being added to the roof of their home stadium.

The task is long and arduous and many obstacles, real and imagined, remain. Injuries, of course, are the unpredictable equalizer and are capable of rearing their ugly visage at the most inopportune times.

The chemistry that the Lakers have shown has been predicated on the ability of Ron Artest to limit his antics to the microphones and the talk shows, and so far tranquility has been the rule in Lakerland.

But the threat remains, especially since his latest Hennessy revelation came to pass. We can only hope that his locker is now free of all alcoholic beverages, and that his desire to win a championship supersedes all else that is damaging.

Finally, the Lakers have to participate in a bit of self-reflection, because the time will come when the chips are down and their resolve is tested.

How they rise above the challenges of their inner demons may be all that can stop Los Angeles from repeating. There aren't many teams that seem capable of accomplishing that task in seven games.

If the Lakers can fight the tendency to become complacent, and glance in the mirror to see the image of a champion, their road to a repeat may already be paved.