The Lakers awoke on Jan. 16 to find themselves owning the best record in the Western Conference. It lasted two days.
Then 26-11, the Lakers are now 27-15 and fifth in the stacked-and-packed West, where a three-game losing streak can mean a three-spot drop in the conference standings.
There's not much wiggle room for the Lakers, with a home game tonight against New York and the longest continuous trip in team history (nine games, 8,713 miles) starting Thursday in Detroit.
Golden State and Utah, both 27-18, are tied for sixth in the West, followed by Denver and Portland in a tie for eighth at 26-18, only two games behind the Lakers.
With center Andrew Bynum sidelined at least six more weeks because of a knee injury, these are the things that might come to haunt the Lakers . . . even if they're not letting people in on their secret.
Kobe Bryant said he was "not really" worried about the team's recent slide in the wild West.
"It's a long season," he said. "The Western Conference is such a tough conference, one or two games separate the first seed and the eighth seed. It's not our concern. Our concern is [tonight's] game."
Of greater concern is the team itself.
With lack-of-confidence issues at the forward spots, an obvious hole in the middle and a recent slump by Derek Fisher (10-for-27 shooting the last three games), the Lakers might need to be inspected for leaks by the same roofing company that fanned out across the top of rain-slicked Staples Center on Sunday.
"Everybody's got to give a little bit more," Coach Phil Jackson said. "I don't care whether it's rebounding or setting a pick or whatever. It looks like we have spells in the game where we play well and we get some things done, but we've got to consistently play through it."
Jackson, who recently described a handful of players as bashful, chose a different word Monday.
"Some of the guys are timid more than frustrated," he said. "Lamar [Odom] isn't looking for his shot. Luke [Walton is] not looking for the kind of game he's played before."
So the Lakers were so irritated, so angry after their 98-95 loss Sunday to Cleveland that they came out breathing fire at Monday morning's practice, pleasing their coach to no end and looking as if they were ready to end a 1-4 skid?
"No, not at all," Jackson said. "The first team got beat by 20 baskets by the second unit out there today. There's a lack of energy. From what cause, I don't know."
So the second unit gets the starting nod tonight against the Knicks? "Probably," Jackson said, smiling.
Jackson wasn't worried, at least publicly, and in his defense, he mentioned a week ago when referring to a San Antonio slide that even top teams go through midseason slumps.
Bryant also doesn't appear nervous, even as evidence stacks up that this is a different team without the 20-year-old Bynum in the middle.
"I just think that guys need to just relax, just go out there and play basketball and not worry about having the pressure of putting up 20 [points] and 10 [rebounds] or doing what Andrew was doing," Bryant said. "Just move the basketball, hit the open man and everything will be fine."
It's not as if Knicks Coach Isiah Thomas will be in the crowd leading "M-V-P" chants tonight, but he doesn't understand why Bryant has never received the award.
"I find it amazing he hasn't been the MVP," Thomas told reporters Monday. "When did he have that 81-point game? [Two] years ago? That's when he should've been the MVP, on that game alone. The players in the league predominantly talk about LeBron [James] and Kobe being 1 and 2, or 1A and 1B, in the league in terms of the best players. In my mind, the best players should be MVP."
Jackson was surprised there were leaks in the Staples Center ceiling, even though the official explanation for a 12-minute delay in Sunday's game was wet clothing hanging from a catwalk high above one of the baskets.
"All kinds of things happen in arenas; you just don't expect it to happen at Staples," he said. "It's only what, 10 years old almost? Nine years? But that's the way things are. I know my house is like that. I never even thought it leaked and then all of a sudden it rained and my house was [leaking]."
Staples Center opened in October 1999.
Even the Cavaliers noticed the Lakers' problem at the end of Sunday's game.
"Nobody wanted to shoot it," guard Larry Hughes said.
vs. New York, 7:30, FSN West
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 570, 1330.
Records -- Lakers 27-15, Knicks 14-29.
Record vs. Knicks -- 1-0.
Update -- Kobe Bryant had 39 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Lakers' 95-90 victory Dec. 23 in New York. The Knicks have played better in recent weeks, winning five of their last eight games.