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Just how good are the Lakers? Ask again in a week.

Mar 5, 2011, 11:10 AM EDT

Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

Has anyone figured out these Lakers?

Last year’s Lakers had the swagger and game of a champion from the start (despite some in-season lapses). These Lakers are much harder to figure out — they beat the Celtics in Boston, but lose to the Cavaliers. Pau Gasol is Black Swan and White Swan. Andrew Bynum’s focus is spotty.

Sure, Los Angeles playing well since the All-Star break, but does even Jack Nicholson have confidence they will carry this through to the playoffs?

As for what Phil Jackson thinks of this team… ask him again in a week after this four-game road trip.

The Lakers start Sunday in San Antonio against the best team in the NBA (just ask the Heat). Then the trip goes to Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. Jackson told ESPNLosAngeles this trip will define his team.

“This trip is really like a make-or-break point of the season for us,” Jackson said before the Bobcats game. “If we play really well on this road trip, we have a chance to do things. If we don’t, we’ll settle in and assume that we’re fighting for either second or third place, hopefully.”

This is Jackson playing his motivation mind games with the Lakers. He’s not even being subtle about it. This is the push to the playoffs, and they need these wins to move up out of third in the West and fourth overall in the league (with the Bulls and Heat just half a game back of them). It’s about home court in the playoffs, and he needs his team to be focused now. They can catch Dallas and Boston (2.5 games back) and have maybe the second best record heading into the playoffs. (They will not make up the 7.5 games they are behind the Spurs.)

This is a real test for the Lakers, we will learn something. Maybe they have found their stride. If not, the questions about them beating the Spurs or any contender out of the East become a lot harder to answer.

  1. loungefly74 - Mar 5, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    this is the home stretch. the Lakers had all season to goof around but now its game time. i like it when phil does his “jedi mind tricks”. he knows when to use them. they may not have the best record but this team is very capable of going the distance.

  2. zblott - Mar 5, 2011 at 3:29 PM

    Another stretch of games that can mix up the top of the Power Rankings:

  3. cleareye1 - Mar 5, 2011 at 11:05 PM

    All great teams come to an end and this could be the Lakers last chance for awhile. They are getting old fast and everyone else is improving fast. The only positive is that the Celtics and Spurs are also getting old.

  4. ocgunslinger - Mar 6, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Cleareye1 is correct. Nothing lasts forever in life and especially in sports. However you will note that some teams seem to be able to “retool” and still be competitive every year. Don’t rule out the Lakers the Spurs the Celtics, the Steelers, the Patriots, the Yankee’s, the Red Sox etc because they all have excellent management that knows how to evaluate talent. Yes in some cases they simply outspend the competition but the legacies run on.

  5. davidly - Mar 6, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    “Last year’s Lakers had the swagger and game of a champion from the start (despite some in-season lapses).”

    This year’s Lakers had the swagger and game of a champion from the start (despite some in-season lapses). So what’s the real diff here? Last year they won 57 games (.695). Right now they are at .698. They can go 13-6 to finish this regular seasonand still match last years win total (likely matching last year’s feat of not having home court).

    The two seasons couldn’t be more identical, except it looks like they’ll have Bynum in shape at the outset of the playoffs.

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