One bad game or the beginning of a losing trend?
The Lakers had been toying with trouble, needing overtime to beat Dallas at home last week, 17 fourth-quarter points from Kobe Bryant to win at Sacramento a few days later and then a dominant second half to pull away from the Clippers.
Then came Sunday, when trouble finally blew past them in a 114-113 loss to Sacramento.
Their defense rested, again, and they had to answer questions for the first time in forever about a bad home loss to a non-playoff-caliber team.
Not since a 102-100 setback to New Jersey had the Lakers lost to a lesser team at Staples Center. The date of that clunker was Nov. 25.
Their thoughts Monday? Nothing that sounded as though they were too worried.
"We have to come back and regain the focus on our opponent [Toronto, tonight] and then win a game and then all of a sudden the tone will change again and everybody will be throwing confetti and having a party and the Lakers will be the best in the West again," Derek Fisher said.
The Lakers and San Antonio have the best record in the Western Conference at 44-19.
Coach Phil Jackson has already amended his traditional thinking, informing the Lakers after Sunday's loss that they need to win 50 games before losing 20, a tall task considering the upcoming opponents after tonight are New Orleans, Houston, Dallas and Utah, all on the road. (Jackson historically has felt that championship-caliber teams won 40 games before losing 20.)
It would help the cause if the Lakers played some defense.
They had been a tad negligent in that area, in case the 71 first-half points they gave the Kings didn't hammer home the point.
Opponents have broken the 100-point barrier in four of the last five games. It would probably be five for five if the Lakers hadn't clamped down on the Clippers last Friday and taken the second half in impressive 70-41 fashion.
"That was about our only defensive effort we've had in that span," Jackson said.
The loss to Sacramento presented a two-pronged problem: The Kings' guards often flew past those of the Lakers and then met scant resistance closer to the basket. Beno Udrih bothered them with his drives and rookie Spencer Hawes crushed them with his dunks, a couple of alarming concepts.
"I don't think it's time to just trigger the fire alarm," forward Ronny Turiaf said. "We have to put our foot in the paint. We have to pack the paint. That's pretty much it."
It wouldn't be such a problem if Andrew Bynum were healthy, but his return was still estimated to be almost a month away, even though a sleek "anti-gravity" treadmill arrived Monday at the Lakers' training facility. (The treadmill allows users to essentially decrease their weight via an air-pressure chamber that envelops the lower body and reduces a person's impact on the treadmill. Bynum might begin using it this week.)
The Lakers hope the gravitational pull of the West doesn't bog them down any further.
"We've had a real good run and the fact that things slip a little bit is not unusual, so it's time to tighten it up a little bit," Jackson said.
Bryant didn't like his effort against the Kings and promised more changes in his game.
He had 26 points on seven-for-18 shooting and scored only 11 points in the final three quarters. He had one point in the fourth quarter.
"I'll start looking to be a little more aggressive here offensively and making teams really have to adjust a little bit more and commit a little bit more," he said. "Right now, they're trying to play half and half -- half on me and half on their man so they can close out the shooters. I'll make them pay a little bit and make them recommit and this way our shooters can get more open looks."
Lakers games have recently become more physical, in Jackson's estimation.
"Sometimes they change after the referees get together at the All-Star game, and all of a sudden, refereeing becomes different," he said. "Everybody's just been getting extremely physical. Every shot's a foul and the only fouls you really get are the ones that are obvious or on a parallel where the referees have to call them. And so I think it's kind of like a challenge as to how physical can you play this game and be effective."
vs. Toronto, 7:30, FSN West
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 570, 1330.
Records -- Lakers 44-19, Raptors 34-28.
Record vs. Raptors -- 1-0.
Update -- Raptors center-forward Chris Bosh has sat out five games because of a sore right knee and is not expected to play tonight. Bosh is averaging 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds. The Lakers ripped through Toronto last month, 121-101, despite being severely undermanned on the day the Pau Gasol trade was announced. Kobe Bryant had 46 points and the Lakers committed only five turnovers, even though four players were sidelined by injuries and another two (Kwame Brown and Javaris Crittenton) were on their way to Memphis.