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."