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L.A. Lakers: How Did the Lakers Go from Title Contenders to Old News Pretenders?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IApril 12, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers checks on fallen teammate Pau Gasol #16 in the game against the New Jersey Nets at Staples Center on January 14, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 100-88.  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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Losing five straight games at the end of the regular season certainly does have a way of turning around perception when it comes to the Los Angeles Lakers and their chances of competing for a third-consecutive NBA championship.

Just a couple of weeks ago various analysts were falling over themselves proclaiming how great of a team the Lakers were, and how a fourth-straight trip to the NBA Finals seemed all but guaranteed.

Then came a home loss to the Denver Nuggets, followed by another home loss to the Utah Jazz. All of a sudden the Lakers' outlook for the 2011 postseason didn't seem as rosy as it did when they were winning 17 out of 18 games.

The bleeding didn't stop with Utah as losses to Golden State, Portland and most recently Oklahoma City have all took turns destroying the good feelings the Lakers accumulated during their streak after the All-Star break.

The aura of invincibility they gained during that time has been mostly destroyed in the space of one week, and according to the opinion of numerous people, it's something that we all should have seen coming.

Or, as I recently read from a CBSsports.com message board, the Lakers are old news, and the rest of the league has finally caught up to their act.

Some people feel the Lakers pretty much coasted through the Western Conference the past three seasons, but there were signs in last year's playoffs that suggested their reign of dominance may be coming to an end.

Observers point to the Lakers' tough first-round series with Oklahoma City, and they also mention their tougher-than-expected Western Conference Finals victory over the Phoenix Suns.

Sure Los Angeles somehow found a way to win last season's championship, but many people felt that valuable lessons had been learned about the Lakers through their struggles, and that this information could be utilized this year.

The Lakers loss to the Warriors was bad, but the losses to Denver, Portland and Oklahoma City are all potentially worse, because they are all teams the Lakers could meet in the postseason.

But is there any team among the three mentioned above that could actually beat the old-news Lakers in a seven-game series?

The Thunder's win over the Lakers on Sunday would appear to offer pretty strong evidence in the team's case as a viable candidate to dethrone the Lakers, but that's only if you dismiss the fact that it was Oklahoma City's first victory over Los Angeles this season.

The Thunder have proved they are not afraid of the Lakers, but in a seven-game series the lack of fear does not compensate for a lack of talent and experience.

Old news or not, the Lakers have already proved they can beat the Thunder with a team that was less than healthy in the postseason. The onus is on Oklahoma City to prove that Sunday's game is something they are capable of repeating for an entire series.

And that point is what's sometimes lost in all of the rhetoric.

A five-game losing streak can reveal how fickle many members of the media and fans can be, and moments like these illustrate how common sense usually takes a vacation when making playoff predictions.

I'm not saying that opponents should not be inspired by recent victories over the defending champions, but those wins will likely matter little once the postseason begins.

The Lakers lost seven out of their last 11 games to end the 2010 season, and then some people assumed they just turned it on in the playoffs.

But the Lakers didn't turn anything on or off, they just used the experience they earned from previous postseason trips and adapted their game for the playoffs.

The Lakers may have increased their level of intensity in last season's playoffs, but they were able to win the championship because they capitalized on the advantages that made them a great team anyway.

The few weaknesses the Lakers have are greatly overshadowed by the team's advantages against most competition, and when the postseason begins that theory will hold true once again.

The Lakers' size, talent and experience are just a few of the reasons the team has won the last three conference championships, and if any team hopes to beat them they must overcome those obstacles over the course of seven games.

Until someone does that, it really doesn't matter if you call the Lakers old, tired or washed up, because regardless of how you finish your statement it still must end with defending champions.

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