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LA Lakers Still Have Work Cut out for Them to Contend with NBA Elite

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 03:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers shouts instructions in the game with the Atlanta Hawks at Staples Center on March 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 99-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

The Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-105 Tuesday night, which may come as a bit of a surprise after they played them strong and beat them soundly, 105-96, back in January.

What does it all mean?

Well, basically it means that the Lakers aren't as good a basketball team as the Thunder.

It really is as simple as the Thunder are just a better team right now. Much better. The Lakers are improving but that is the bar to clear.

— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) March 6, 2013

This is one loss to break up their solid streak of games. It's not a sign of the coming Los Angeles apocalypse, a precursor of things to come or evidence that the Lakers can't make the playoffs. It's simply another example of why they aren't one of the elite teams in the NBA.

It seems as if their 30-31 record would be enough to prove that, but throwing together an argument based on actual games is just as easy as citing their record.

Los Angeles is able to beat teams it must in order to compile wins, but it's going to continue to struggle with younger, deeper or just better-coached teams.

What the Lakers were able to do was show that they're more resilient than they were earlier on in the season. They were miserable in the first six minutes of the game and were down big for most of the first half. When the first 24 minutes had passed, they had a 16-point deficit to overcome.

They fought all throughout the second half and cut the lead to six points with plenty of chances to get closer. They just couldn't get over the hump.

The Lakers failed to score a single point in the final 6 minutes, finishing the game like they started it.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 6, 2013

The Lakers came close but the Thunder closed out their win with a huge 12-0 run to pull away for good. #YoungLegs

— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) March 6, 2013

What is evident is that the Lakers are going to be competitive down the stretch, and they're going to have the fight in them to put the scare into a team once they fiddle their way into the playoffs.

Oklahoma City beating them was a smack in the mouth, not a whack in the knee with a sledgehammer.

Not a bad thing for lakes though. RT @espn: It's been blue skies and sunny for the Lakers lately. Tonight, they encountered a Thunder storm.

— Eric Freeman (@freemaneric) March 6, 2013

They watched as Dwight Howard was completely ineffective on offense, Kobe Bryant was ailing, Antawn Jamison missed two wide-open three-pointers down the stretch, Russell Westbrook threw up nearly 40 and Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher combined for 20 off the bench, yet they still put up enough of a fight to make this a game.

The final score won't reflect this, but Los Angeles was able to put a scare into Oklahoma City, which the Thunder soon rebuffed.

At least somebody on the team was smiling by the end of the game.

Don't worry though. The important thing to remember is... Dwight's having fun.

— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 6, 2013

Los Angeles is going to get back to winning after this. The Lakers have played too well of late, and a playoff berth is well within their grasp.

The only question they have left to answer is whether or not they'll be able to improve enough down the stretch to give Oklahoma City a run come playoff time.

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