Kobe Bryant was hit hard by the postseason awards last season, finishing All-NBA third team after three seasons on the first team, and failing to make the all-defensive team.
A year later, Laker Coach Phil Jackson would restore Bryant to first-team All-NBA honors.
"He's reclaimed his position as the best guard in the NBA," Jackson said Sunday.
"He's always played with a fervor. I just think he's playing just a little bit elevated. Obviously, his season's gone better."
But Jackson was less committal on whether Bryant should return to the all-defensive team.
"I'm not going to comment on that," he said. "Kobe's had some issues -- tendinitis in the knee -- and that immediately says that you can't react sometimes defensively. But he still has a nose for the ball, he still has the ability to get to things, he can be an aggressive defender and do some things.
"This year's been more about scoring. There's been much more of an emphasis on scoring."
Last season brought the end of Bryant's streak of five consecutive appearances on the all-defensive first or second team.
It's rare for coaches to say who they'd rather face in the playoffs, but Jackson did just that.
"We played the best against Dallas," he said. "I think they're the best team, but we have played the best [against them], and that was early in the season."
The Lakers, who have not officially clinched a playoff spot, finished 2-1 against Dallas, 1-3 against San Antonio and are 0-3 against Phoenix with a game left against the Suns.
Rookie center Andrew Bynum, all of 18 years and five months, continues to grow.
He is now 7 feet 1 and 280 pounds, adding almost two inches and 15 pounds since joining the Lakers.
Bynum, who suited up Sunday against the Clippers after missing six games, said he has not hit the rookie wall for a simple reason.
"To hit the wall, you've got to play," he said, smiling. "I don't get that many minutes so I still have fresh legs.
Even so, Jackson did not predict much playing time for him.
"I haven't expected a whole lot from him this whole year," Jackson said. "Right now he's pretty green and having been out for two weeks now, I don't expect anything right away."
Bynum, who had been out with a sprained right foot and ankle, is averaging 1.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in 7.4 minutes.
After an eight-season playoff drought, the idle Clippers clinched a berth Saturday when the Dallas Mavericks defeated the New Orleans Hornets.
The Clippers could have secured a spot Friday against the Sacramento Kings, but made too many mistakes in the final two minutes of a 96-93 loss.
Just clinching is what mattered, Elton Brand said.
"It doesn't matter how you get in as long as you get in," said the co-captain, in his fifth season with the team. "Sure, we'd rather have clinched on our own merits, beating Sacramento, especially since we haven't fared well against them.
"But you just want to wrap up that spot. You could say we backed in because we didn't win the game that got us in, but I'm pretty sure a lot of other teams would have wanted to clinch a spot any way they could. We'll definitely take it."
Reaching the playoffs validates the Clippers' opinion of themselves, Brand said.
"A lot of people on the outside probably didn't think we could do this, and a lot of people were counting us out again," he said. "After nine seasons, you could fall into that trap of thinking we wouldn't do it again.
"I can understand why people would think nothing is any different. We had talent before and didn't make it, so it was easy for them to think nothing had changed, but this year is different. We had a great mix from the beginning."
The Clippers won 28 games in their first season under Coach Mike Dunleavy, 37 last season and have 44 victories with six games remaining.
"On a time frame of being able to do something, I think this was the earliest year anybody thought it would be possible, if anybody thought it would ever be possible," Dunleavy said.
"This was the time frame I was looking at when I took the job, and we've made the progress I thought we would be able to make."
Corey Maggette sat out his second consecutive game because of back spasms.
Maggette, who was examined by team medical personnel and a chiropractor, received treatment at his home from a therapist and did not attend Sunday's game against the Lakers.
vs. Dallas, FSN Prime Ticket, 7:30
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 1150, 830.
Records -- Clippers 44-32, Mavericks 58-19.
Record vs. Dallas -- 0-2.
Update -- The Clippers and Mavericks, who could meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, end the regular season April 19 at Dallas.