Have the LA Lakers Really Gotten Any Better Since Early Season Turmoil?

You want to believe the Los Angeles Lakers have gotten better since their early season implosion, you really do. But you can't.

Not when the Lakers continue to make the same mistakes over and over and over again.

In some ways, however, they are better off.

Dwight Howard's play has improved a great deal since the All-Star break. He's averaging 16.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game in his last 17, and his mobility is easily at a season-high.

There's even a case to be made for Los Angeles' heightened sense of camaraderie and established chemistry. Bursts of competency sans Kobe Bryant left the masses convinced that the Lakers had turned a corner.

But have they? Has Los Angeles really passed the point of panic? Are the Lakers finally fit for contention?

Three-quarters worth of lethargy against the Golden State Warriors says no. The version of the Lakers that fell just six points shy of overcoming an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit suggests otherwise.

With the regular season winding down, we're obligated to concede to the former.

Losers of their last three games, two of which were against sub.-500 factions, the Lakers find themselves just one game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.

Amid pleas for Hollywood's finest to hurl themselves at the panic button, Bryant himself refuses to do so (via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports):

The Lakers (36-35) also felt pain with their third straight loss that caused them to lose ground for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers, currently in the eighth spot, have three teams on their heels as the Utah Jazz (35-36) are a game behind, the Dallas Mavericks (34-36) trail by 1 1/2 and the Portland Trail Blazers (33-37) are 2 1/2 out. 

Kobe Bryant showed no concern.

"I've been relaxed all year," Bryant t...

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