Reporting from Denver — Coach George Karl has seen a lot this season, thanks to the daily doses of Carmelo Anthony trade rumors swirling around the Denver Nuggets.
But he emerged from the fray Friday to give his thoughts on the Lakers, who have experienced their own up-and-down swings since November.
Karl thought the Lakers had given up on achieving 60 victories and would be happy somewhere in the 50s. He also said the San Antonio Spurs were the top Western Conference team, though he didn't rule out an eventual rally by the Lakers, who play the Nuggets on Friday.
"I don't think anybody in the West other than San Antonio is scaring anybody," Karl said. "I think San Antonio has shown me that they deserve to be considered champion contenders. The Lakers will definitely figure it out. They will be a top team. If they're not a top team now, they'll definitely be a top team by the end of the season."
Karl is a friend of Coach Phil Jackson, and Karl's son, Coby, played the 2007-08 season with the Lakers, perhaps a reason he seemed to downplay the Lakers' on-again, off-again tendencies this season.
"I just think it's incredibly tough to try to defend a championship for two or three years," he said. "They get the team they're playing's best shot every night. They've probably got to play playoff-intensity basketball more often than we do. It's hard to do. It's hard to get to that mental level of commitment."
Along those lines, Karl didn't want to hear that Kobe Bryant was slowing down at age 32.
"I know the ball is in his hands a lot more," he said. "He's still one of the top-five most difficult guys to prepare for because of his power, his influence. Right now he's playing like a point guard because they are running a lot of pick-and-rolls for him."
Bryant had 21 points and 10 assists in the Lakers' 109-100 loss to Dallas on Wednesday. He also had three turnovers in the game-turning third quarter.
Numerous Lakers had bad defensive games against Dallas — mainly Ron Artest, Shannon Brown, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol — but Artest wasn't bothered by it.
"As long as I play Ron Artest-type basketball and apply it to the team, we'll be OK," he said. "There's nothing really to worry about."
Jackson wondered whether Artest failed to be challenged by the thought of defending Mavericks forward-guard Sasha Pavlovic, who beat the Lakers for 11 points a week after signing a 10-day contract with Dallas.
"I thought [Wednesday] night he had a little bit of a setback," Jackson said. "Sometimes I worry about whether Ron's intrigued by the game because of the quality of the player he has to play against."
So then Artest will have a solid game Friday against Anthony in Denver, no?
"It depends upon whether he can stay on the floor," Jackson said. "A lot of times they call fouls on Ron against Carmelo."
Bynum is fine
Andrew Bynum practiced Thursday despite sustaining a hyperextended right elbow against Dallas. He wore a large wrap on the elbow Thursday, the latest creation by longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti.
"Gary loves to make those kind of bandages and stuff like that," Jackson said. "It's a whole construction. He's kind of like a carpenter."
Bynum is expected to play against Denver.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.