Meaningful regular-season games have been few and far between for the Lakers since they edged the New Orleans Hornets by one game for the best record in the Western Conference in the closing days of 2007-08.
There was their redemptive victory over Boston on Christmas Day 2008, six months after their loss to the Celtics in the NBA Finals.
There was an overtime win at Boston on Feb. 5, 2009, and a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers three nights later.
This season, there was, let's see, well, uh, umm, not very many at all.
That's why tonight's game against the Nuggets in Denver represents something a little bit more than just another game for the Lakers.
After all, the Lakers have lost three of their past four overall and two of three this season against the Nuggets.
The Lakers (55-22) need a victory tonight in the worst way.
Above all, it would enable the Lakers to clinch the best record in the conference for the third consecutive season. It also would go a long way in pointing the Lakers in a better direction than they have been headed in the past week or two.
"Just looking forward to getting one win to secure the West and prepare for the playoffs," Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. "Just play the way we practice. Move the ball. Don't turn it over. Stay focused. Stay confident as a group.
"You're always concerned. Your concern is if you don't play the right way you could get ousted from the playoffs. Other than that, we have the second-best record in the league. Sitting pretty. One win away from wrapping up the best record in the West."
To be sure, it has been a foregone conclusion since the opening day of training camp that the Lakers would finish atop the conference standings again. Getting there has been filled with unpredictable twists and turns, however.
Odom insisted the Lakers were not anxious but eager to end the regular season with a flourish and begin the playoffs and defend their NBA championship. He said they are not nervous or tight with five regular-season games remaining.
"As individuals, you tighten up your game or you tighten up your shot," he explained. "As far as timid or anxious or second-guessing, no. … It would be great (to clinch with a victory over the Nuggets). That's a team we might bump into again.
"It would be great to get it against them."
The Lakers play five games in seven days to conclude the regular season, a busy stretch that doesn't concern them at all. After tonight, they face Minnesota on Friday, Portland on Sunday, Sacramento on Tuesday and the Clippers on Wednesday.
"At this point, I don't think it matters," Kobe Bryant said when asked about the schedule. "If you play a lot of games, it gives you a chance to get into a good rhythm. If you have a lot of (days) between the games, you get a chance to work on some things.
"If you have a lot of games you can just work on fine-tuning some things."
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