LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 28: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers is defended by Kenyon Martin (L) #4 and Chauncey Billups #1 of the Denver Nuggets during the first half at Staples Center on February 28, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
So which are the real Lakers? The ones that looked sloppy, disinterested and got pushed around by the Nuggets for 30 minutes Sunday? Or the ones that had Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom working well together, playing great defense and dominating the last 18 minutes Sunday?
The Lakers are so talented that their 18 good minutes are better than Denver's good 30. The Lakers are the best in the West when they want to be. But they admit they don't always want to be.
"I think there's definitely a lack of sense of urgency. There's something to be said about that," Phil Jackson said after the Lakers sleepwalked through a win over Philadelphia last Friday. "We have to bring that back to our game. It really activates players. I think it makes players much sharper. "
Odom admitted that same night that after going to the NBA Finals the last two years, getting up for a regular season game is hard. Even a game against Denver -- a rising threat in the West that has beaten the Lakers twice.
"It probably means more to them, doesn't it?" Odom asked. "Because we've beaten them twice in the playoffs… We know we can beat teams. We just need to focus a little more. Bring our energy up."
It took 30 minutes against Denver for the Lakers to find that focus. It helped when the Lakers made a change, bringing in Odom and starting to make Kobe a passer out of the high post, two things Denver had trouble dealing with. Those changes brought a couple easy baskets, and those in turn brought some Lakers focus.
But that inconsistency rightfully bothers fans. They saw the Lakers get pushed to seven games by Houston last year -- without Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady -- in large part because they did not take the Rockets seriously (Houston also creates a few matchup issues for the Lakers, meaning they need to focus).
Those fans look ahead and think that while 18 minutes of focus may be enough to beat Denver, to beat Cleveland (or maybe the suddenly surging Magic) in the Finals, it is going to take a full 48 minutes of focus.
And if they haven't done that all season long, can they really just flip the switch in the Finals? Lakers fans had better hope they can do it faster than they did on Sunday.