It's not just that Lakers are winning, it's who's losing

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Although the NBA postseason is still four months away and hype for the league's annual All-Star game has just begun, the Lakers are starting to show signs they will be a playoff contender in the spring.

Heading into tonight's game at Golden State, the Lakers have won four games in a row and sit in second place in the Pacific Division, two games behind Phoenix in the loss column. And if the playoffs started today, the Lakers would be seeded fifth in the Western Conference with a 13-8 record.

"We're a team that plays hard," Kobe Bryant said after the Lakers defeated San Antonio, 102-97, Thursday night at Staples Center. "Defense has really been a key to our victories, along with our ball movement. We just have to find a way against the top teams to play our style of basketball that's winning basketball for us."

The Lakers have won nine in a row and 14 of 15 over the Warriors, including a 10-point victory at Staples Center on Sunday. But the Lakers understand that they are far from being a finished product.

"We've just tried to jell together and not focus in on the business aspect of things," Bryant said of the Lakers, who are 10-4 against Western Conference opponents this season.

What stands out about the Lakers' strong early-season start has been the type of victories they've recorded. Ten of their 13 wins have come against playoff teams from last season, and they've already defeated four of this season's six division leaders in Denver (twice), Detroit, Phoenix and the Spurs.

The Lakers will face a difficult challenge trying to keep their winning streak alive tonight against the Warriors, who are 11-4 since Stephen Jackson returned to the lineup after a seven-game suspension to start the season.

"We want to focus on the love of the game," Bryant said about the Lakers' goals this season. "Just being around one another and try to grow as a unit."

Starting with tonight's game against Golden State, the Lakers will play five of their next six games on the road, with their only home game being against the Clippers on Sunday.


Lakers Coach Phil Jackson on wearing a microphone for television during Thursday's victory over San Antonio: "I was very disappointed," Jackson said. "My battery ran out of power and they had to change batteries in the first half. It just really was disappointing."

And when asked whether he was talking too much, Jackson answered, "Either that or my pacemaker was conflicting with it and ran it out of gas.".

Finally, Jackson on his interview with TNT's Craig Sager before the start of the fourth quarter: "I tried to have fun but Craig wasn't very responsive," Jackson said. "... he didn't want to be too flippant."


Jackson said Kwame Brown, who has missed 12 consecutive games because of knee and ankle injuries, will not play but could rejoin the team after Sunday's game against the Clippers.

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