Lakers Coach Mike Brown has tried a number of starters, including Metta… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Denver -- The Lakers lost Lamar Odom as well as most of their first nine road games.
They would open the playoffs on the road if the regular season ended Saturday, and roughly one-third of their fans participating in a recent online poll picked them to lose in the first round.
The dire feelings apparently have not infiltrated the office of Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, who stood behind his preseason assertion that his team could contend for the NBA title in a phone interview with the Los Angeles Times.
"I'm not sure there's a lot of teams out there that after 66 games are going to say in a seven-game series, with rest in between each game, that, 'I want to play the Lakers,'" Kupchak said. "So I think we would be a tough out for anybody in a seven-game series with a day or two of rest in between games."
Although the Lakers had already trudged one-third of the way through their schedule, Kupchak was understandably reluctant to assess his team. The Lakers continue to learn a new system under a new coach during a lockout-shortened season featuring game after game in rapid succession, meaning it could take longer to accurately gauge their potential.
But continued prodding revealed several of Kupchak's likes: the play of reserve point guard Steve Blake, the addition of power forward Josh McRoberts, the emergence of rookies Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, and the get-after-it mentality of Coach Mike Brown and his staff.
"They're not going to be outworked, our coaches, they're not going to be outprepared," Kupchak said. "They're always going to have energy. From what we hear, our players want to win for them."
There were also some disappointments. Kupchak noted his team had not received adequate production from small forwards Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks and Luke Walton. Brown has given each player except Walton a chance to start and continues to search for more consistency from the group.
The Lakers also have been wobbly on the road, dropping seven of their first 9 games before playing the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on Friday. That record is particularly galling for a team that has gone 11-2 at home.
"If we fared as well on the road as we have at home, then we have one of the top three records in the NBA," Kupchak said. "This is no secret: You can look at the box scores and the standings and see we need to improve on the road."
Kupchak said he had no regrets when it came to trading Odom to Dallas in December after the sensitive forward struggled to cope with the Lakers' failed attempt to send him to New Orleans as part of a trade for Chris Paul that was quashed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
"We made a decision taking into consideration all factors at the time, and we don't look back on it," Kupchak said. "We're looking ahead at ways to continue to improve this team in the future."
"Big deal, small deal, anything that we think can help our chances today and help our chances as a franchise down the road," Kupchak said, "we're looking at."