From one view, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking like a vulnerable high seed in the Western Conference, primed for an upset. From another perspective, they are a dangerously cagey bunch, a team no one wants to see in the playoffs.
To many, the former sounds about right these days, given the turmoil in the franchise and the team's struggles away from Staples Center. But in the Lakers' locker room, they're clinging to the latter.
"Anybody who counts us out is challenged. They're mentally challenged," guard Kobe Bryant told NBA.com. "Am I happy with how we play every single night? Of course not. But I'm content with where we are overall and where I think we can go."
The non-basketball talk seems to drown out the good with the team. The acquisition of guard Ramon Sessions, the dominance of center Andrew Bynum -- they seem to get lost in the sensational fodder coming from Lakers Land.
The Lakers, who host the Warriors on Sunday, are traditionally a source of high drama all season. But this season seems especially soap-operaish. So much so, the guy who changed his name to Metta World Peace is now the quiet one.
"I just think that with this team being in L.A.," coach Mike Brown said, "with this team being the Lakers, with as many championships as it has, there's going to always be drama."
The nixed Chris Paul trade -- which led to the trading of devastated fan favorite Lamar Odom and the sulking
And the one that won't end: first-year coach Mike Brown. Not only is he replacing all-time great Phil Jackson, but also Brown's offensive woes have followed him from Cleveland to Hollywood.
The Lakers, 17th in the NBA in scoring (96.0), are forced to lean heavily on Bryant. He leads the league in field-goal attempts per game (23.4), which is 3.4 more shots than he averaged last season.
Talk of his players not buying what Brown is selling has been a regular part of insider scuttle. But signs of disharmony became public March 25 when Brown benched Bryant for a long stretch during a loss to Memphis. Then Tuesday at Golden State, Brown benched center Andrew Bynum after he launched a 3-pointer.
Bryant recently proclaimed he still has Brown's back. But the seemingly contentious relationship between Brown and his players is making for anxious viewing for many Lakers fans, who have yet to see their team pull off that reassuring stretch of dominance.
"We're getting close to the playoffs," Brown told reporters, "and I'm going to try to figure out what I can do to help this team. Right now, the (team's) size and the guys that have been there before is the way I'm going to go."
But is this all exaggerated media hype or a team lacking chemistry?
Through it all -- their star's inefficiency, their 11-15 road record, their punchless bench -- the Lakers are 12 games over .500 and are positioned to be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. They have an imposing front line, powered by Bynum and Gasol. They, by most accounts, upgraded at point guard with Sessions. They still have arguably the best player in the game in Bryant.
That's why Bryant said he is putting no stock in Lakers critics.
"The thing you have to remember is come playoff time," Bryant said after the Lakers beat New Orleans on Saturday, "we'll be well-rested, we'll be very prepared, we'll have a lot of size, and we have speed now with Sessions. It's a matchup problem for a lot of people. So the issues that we kind of run into when you see us win five games in a row and then get a little tired because we're an old team, we're not going to have those issues come postseason."
Saturday was the last on Gladness' 10-day contract. He has played six games with the Warriors, totaling 12 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in 44 minutes.
"We're going to move forward with him," coach Mark Jackson said Saturday. "We're excited about what he's been able to do in a short period of time."