At times this season, the Lakers have looked impressive, such as when they began the season 8-0.
At times this season, the Lakers have looked unimpressive, such as when they lost four consecutive games and, worse, when they lost at home to under-.500 teams Indiana, Milwaukee and Memphis.
So when Charles Barkley was asked to give his opinion on the state of the Lakers, he was more than willing to share his thoughts.
Barkley, an analyst for TNT, was quick to point out that the Lakers are "not playing bad," but they also are not guaranteed to win a third consecutive NBA championship.
" Ron Artest has not played well all season, first and foremost," Barkley said in a recent phone interview. " Kobe [Bryant] is getting older and Derek Fisher is getting older, so they are kind of like in the pack with the rest of the good teams now. That's better than 90% of the league, but the championship is not guaranteed."
Barkley likes what the San Antonio Spurs have done in posting the best record in the NBA (35-6), which gives them a 51/2 -game lead over the Lakers in the Western Conference.
Barkley likes Dallas and Utah in the West as well. In the East, he likes Boston, Chicago, Miami and Orlando.
"I think there are four teams in each conference that have a legitimate chance of winning" the NBA championship, Barkley said. "Like I said, I think the Lakers are clearly in the mix.
"But San Antonio and Dallas are both terrific teams and I'm waiting to see on Utah on how Mehmet Okur comes back. They could be there. But I think all four of those teams are pretty evenly matched."
The Lakers face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday at Staples Center, a game for which Barkley and the rest of the TNT studio crew of Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson will be on hand.
Barkley has been critical of the Thunder, saying, "They have a terrific offensive team, but they do not play any defense."
Still, the Thunder (27-13) is two games behind the Lakers (30-12) for the second-best record in the West.
Some around the NBA have wondered if the Lakers are bored with the season, but Barkley does not subscribe to that theory.
"I think they are older and they've played a lot of basketball games, so the margin of being better than everybody is not there anymore," Barkley said. "I said last year in the playoffs Kobe is slowing down. And clearly he has slowed down.
"For them to be effective, they've got to be more of an inside-out team and Kobe has to be more of a closer. So I don't think they are bored, I just think their margin of error is not what it used to be. There are a lot of bad, bad, bad teams in the NBA. But I would be curious to know what their record is against the good teams."
The Lakers are 4-5 against teams that currently have winning records.
But they are 8-2 since Andrew Bynum moved back into the starting lineup.
"He makes a big difference for them," Barkley said. "But like I said, Ron Artest has not played well all season. Kobe is slowing down and Derek Fisher is slowing down. They still have a good team, a terrific team. But as far as walking through the West, those days are over."