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Despite Struggles the Lakers Are Still Looking Down on Dallas and Denver

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMarch 17, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA game at Oracle Arena on March 15, 2010 in Oakland, 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 Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It's funny how perception can sometimes differ from reality, and after recently glancing at the NBA's Western Conference Standings, the struggles by the front-running Los Angeles Lakers may have been wildly misconstrued.

Debate has been lively concerning the Lakers since they endured a rough stretch, in which they lost three consecutive games for the first time in almost two years.

The Lakers' slide corresponded with a surge by the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets and it changed the perception of the conference race.

Whispers began to emerge that perhaps the dominance of Los Angeles was nearing its end, and maybe a confident Nuggets' team or a re-tooled Mavericks' team could end the Lakers' two year reign atop the conference.

A 13 game winning streak by Dallas and a six game winning streak by Denver added fuel to the rumors of the Lakers' demise, but the last week has shown us the predictions of ruin were over-blown.

After a combined 19 game win streak, the Nuggets and Mavericks were able to carve only a single game off of the Lakers' conference lead, and in Dallas' case a 32 point loss to the New York Knicks raises some interesting questions of their own.

For one, what type of true championship contender loses a home game at this point of the season, by such a large margin, to a team which has absolutely nothing left to play for?

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I understand futility breeds desperation and teams under those circumstances can be dangerous, so a loss is understandable, if not acceptable.

But to lose by 32 points at home? That is not the mark of a true contender and despite recent roster upgrades Dallas may still exist in the shadow of their playoff failures of 2006-2007.

Choking in the Finals of 2006, and the Mavericks subsequent defeat the next year in the first round of the playoffs as the number one seed has left a discernible mark on the franchise.

Epic failures like those tend to leave residual damage which is capable of following teams for years, and the manner in which Dallas conceded to New York brought back memories of those disasters.

Denver on the other hand, is the one team which can cause the Lakers problems because of their team speed and athleticism, plus they have a proven champion in point guard Chauncey Billups.

The Nuggets have been consistent for much of the year, and have gained valuable confidence in their two wins over the Lakers this season. They sincerely feel they are capable of defeating Los Angeles in the postseason.

The Lakers, however know they can beat the Nuggets and have done just that the past two years in the playoffs, and despite some issues, nothing much has changed in that area.

Additionally, Los Angeles is beginning to show some life, and the Lakers are putting together a little run of their own in preparation for the postseason.

Since a loss to Orlando, the Lakers have won four games in a row, and a moment of tension between Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum may have provided the team with necessary motivation.

Gasol and Bynum have asserted themselves in the post, and Bryant has shown the ability to compromise, seemingly recognizing the efforts of his beleaguered big men.

Both Bynum and Gasol caught heat for their statements to the media, but they have shown they can be dominate in the paint with more touches, as they have controlled the paint in recent games.

More importantly, Bryant has began to find his shooting touch after his finger injury, and the Lakers are discovering the rhythm which carried them through to last season's championship.

The road ahead for Los Angeles is perilous, and a future five game road trip will test their fortitude, but the Lakers seem to be finding their stride at just the right time.

The prospects are fair for the Lakers even though they have had to endure adversity to reach this point, but that is the sign of a true championship contender, and the first place team in the Western Conference.  

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