Could the Lakers Lose in the First Round?

The Lakers should win in the first round handily. Should.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    DENVER - APRIL 08: Head coach Phil Jackson of the Los Angeles Lakers leaves the court after the Lakers were defeated by the Denver Nuggets during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on April 8, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 98-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

    Last Sunday, the Lakers lost a close game to the Portland Trail Blazers. Two weeks ago on Sunday, they lost a close game to the San Antonio Spurs. Last month, they played the Oklahoma City Thunder on a Friday night and got blown out.

    When the Lakers start the playoffs on Sunday, they will face either Portland, San Antonio or Oklahoma City. With the Lakers slouching toward the playoffs and those recent results, the question has to be asked:

    Could the Lakers lose in the first round of the playoffs?

    It's not unprecedented. Remember in 2007, the Dallas Mavericks racked up 67 wins, one year after being in the Finals, and they got knocked off by a Baron Davis-led Golden State Warriors team. It was pretty fun to watch when it was happening to someone else.

    Lakers fans have not found the Lakers recent play fun to watch. Even though they are doing some little things better, they keep losing. There are some that think the best time to play the Lakers is in the first round -- they are slumping, they do not have their "playoff legs" yet. When they do, it gets a lot harder.

    That said, the Lakers will still be the big favorites and win in the first round. They should win handily. Should.

    First off, they have the most talented starting five in the NBA. In the NBA, talent wins in the end, especially with a good coach guiding it. And for the playoffs, that starting five is expected to get Andrew Bynum back, which will help protect the paint against those point guards who blow past Derek Fisher like he's standing still. It also will help the Lakers rebounding -- something Oklahoma City is not that good at to start with -- and send Lamar Odom to help the sad Lakers bench.

    More importantly, the Lakers also have done this before. Two trips to the Finals in two years. One title. The Lakers are a veteran team that has climbed the mountain before. Fans hate teams that think they can flip the switch and be good. Coaches do too. But this Lakers team is one that can.

    But they have got to clean up what has been sloppy execution. Portland did a good job of using their length to make it hard for Kobe to get the ball and get off a good shot. There's a counter to that -- swing the ball to the other side and get the ball into the post down low, preferably to Pau Gasol. He was 9 of 13, he had the hot hand. But the Lakers guards (and Ron Artest) happily settle for the three and jacked up 22 of them. They hit five. Phil Jackson was annoyed enough to intentionally call for Gasol to take the final three in regulation. Maybe it was the only way to get him the ball. Maybe it sends a message to the guards.

    These Lakers are not a good outside-shooting team. They can hit some open looks if they start working the ball inside-out -- if Gasol passes out of the post, guys will have time to set their feet and hit the open threes. But the Lakers guards are launching ugly threes off pick-and-rolls. Jordan Farmar, I'm looking right at you. Stop it.

    Still, too early to panic. The Lakers team we have seen the last few weeks will not be the one we see in the playoffs. They will be more focused; they will have the full arsenal of players (DJ Mbenga, bless him, should not be getting quality minutes, and will not when it matters).

    But if the execution doesn't come, all bets are off.

    Kurt Helin lives in Los Angeles and is the managing editor of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).