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Alvin Gentry considers the Lakers a Western Conference threat

The Lakers all season have faced some unsettling realities that remain unresolved. 

They are still experiencing Lamar Odom's departure and have yet to use their $8.9-million trade exception. Ever since Shannon Brown left for Phoenix via free agency, the Lakers haven't found a definitive backup for Kobe Bryant.

And, oh yeah. There's the whole transition period involving the Lakers shifting from Phil Jackson's triangle offense to Mike Brown's strong corner offense. In the past five games, the Lakers have actually worsened in several categories compared to their season average, including points per game (88.6, 92.48), field-goal percentage (41.2%, 44.7%) and turnovers (15.4, 14.83).

Add all those ingredients together and the Lakers (17-12) enter Friday's game against the Phoenix Suns with a fifth-place standing in the Western Conference. Still, Suns Coach Alvin Gentry considers the Lakers a legitimate threat. 

"As long as they have No. 24, they will be thought of that way," Gentry said. "Their record doesn't really matter. They still have him, [Andrew] Bynum and [Pau] Gasol ...  At the end of the day, are you telling me anybody would want to play them in the playoffs in the first round? No, I don't think so. I don't think anyone is begging to play them in the playoffs in the first round."

Gentry knows firsthand the frustration Bryant can inflict on other teams. In the Lakers' 99-83 victory Jan. 10 against the Suns, Bryant scored a league-high 48 points. That paved the way for Bryant to score at least 40 points for four consecutive games, the first time he's done so since March 2007.

Still, Bryant is facing his own issues. Bryant's numbers have drastically dropped from January to February in points per game (31.2, 24.5) and shooting percentage (45.5%, 37.1%) even though the minutes have remained similar (39.2, 39.1). Though Bryant leads the NBA in both scoring (28.7 points per game), he also tops the league in shots (23.9 per game). His 37.59 usage rate marks his highest total since the 2005-06 season. 

Lakers Coach Mike Brown said, "there always is a concerted effort to get the big guys the ball," before mentioning the constant double-teams opponents give Bryant, Gasol and Bynum in the post.

Still, the Lakers have shown some progress.

They remain among the league's best in several defensive categories including points allowed (90.45) points, opponent field-goal percentage (41.7%) and have gones 6-2 against Western Conference playoff teams.

"This is an unusual year," Gentry said, referring to the NBA's lockout-shortened 66-game season. "If this was a regular situation, you would say who you are is who you are now 41 games into it. I'm not sure this year you can exactly zero in and say that."

 RELATED:

Jerry West predicts Lakers will be 'very dangerous in the playoffs'

-- Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at [email protected]

 
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