Lakers - Warriors Preview: Building A Cushion

March 29, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) during the second half of the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Staples Center. Thunder won 102-93. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

For all the drama, all the superstar-slumping, center-three-point-shooting, stupid-rotation-coaching drama, surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers, the bottom line performance of these Lakers hasn't been all that bad of late. They've won nine of their last thirteen games. Sure, some of the losses have been unseemly (Utah beating the Lakers with a string of rookies down the stretch, Houston decimated by injuries and still holding on), but even losing to Memphis or Oklahoma City is nothing to be ashamed of. The problem around these parts is based on what we see, not on actual consequences.

It's important that the actual consequences, those wins and losses, remain in L.A.'s favor. The Lakers have an extremely favorable schedule over the next week or so ... of their next six contests, three are against some of the worst teams in the NBA, and another two are against teams on the fringe of the Western Conference playoff race, all sandwiched around a vital contest against the cross Staples Clippers that will go a long way towards determining who ends up Pacific Division champs and (more importantly) owners of home court advantage in round one of the playoffs.

After that, things get dicey in a hurry. The Lakers end the season with three games against the 2nd place San Antonio Spurs (whom the Lakers have not yet faced this year), another match up against the OKC Thunder, and games against the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets in their last eight contests. So the Lakers need to take care of business against the scrubs to build a cushion to protect themselves against any possible fall.

And they have taken care of business against the scrubs lately, if you define taking care of business as winning. The Lakers have not looked particularly strong in needing a dynamo Matt Barnes performance and two clutch Kobe jumpers to win in Golden State last week, or in needed a double digit 4th quarter comeback and another dose of Kobe heroics (after his terrible shooting the rest of the game dug the hole in the first place) against the Hornets yesterday. But both resulted in Lakers victories, and victories are the benchmark on which the season is measured.

Tonight, they get the Warriors again, the same Warriors who, as previously mentioned, are actively tanking the rest of their season. If you don't believe me, consider that since the last preview in which I documented their tanking efforts, they've lost two more games ... at home ... to the New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets respectively. Now, they come to the Lakers home court. As recently as two weeks ago, it was as feared a place as existed in the league, but right now the Lakers appear to be very mortal even in the friendly confines of Staples Center.

But not this mortal ... right? No matter how tired Kobe is, and I think we can all agree the man is playing on rubber legs at the moment, there's no way he shoots as poorly as he did yesterday, no way the team performs as poorly as it did in letting New Orleans take them to the brink yesterday. There is no way, right?

We'll know soon enough, but the Lakers cannot afford to slip up. The mountains in the distance are much more ominous.

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