Poll: How important are the next four games?

Ron Artest shared an interesting thought about the whirlwind that is a title defense season during yesterday's practice. Pegging the experience as "one hell of a storm," he mentioned feelings like "anxiety," "anxiousness" and "excitement" accompanying this "roller coaster ride." However, he thinks the team is over the hump and there are "brighter days ahead." I asked if the emotions make it sometimes easy to forget you still have to play well leading up to the time when Larry O'Brien is actually defended:

"You can probably forget why you're here. Everything's so easy. It was so easy-- we played the right way at the beginning of the season. We have. It's not like for the whole season we've been playing bad. We did play that way, and the games were so easy. That was the conversations we had earlier. It's so easy, it's too easy," he said. "We kept saying that instead of, "We have to get better."

Artest is right, by the way. The Lakers do in fact have to get better, and their next four games theoretically present the most ideal time to build towards the catching of fire: At Golden State and Sacramento, then in L.A. against the T-Wolves and the Wizards.

Four teams with a combined 76-187 record, the left side of the standings just 28 wins better than the Lakers by their lonesome. Save my final chance to see Darko Milicic play in person, should he make good on a vow to return to Europe next season, I'm reaching to find any reason these opponents provide intrigue of any sort. (Yeah, Tyreke Evans is awesome, but I also have League Pass, so tomorrow hardly feels like "Must See TV.") Bottom line, these are crappy games on paper and all four opponents should fall even if the purple and gold operate below par, much less display the consistently crisp execution fans are dying to see.

From there, however, the schedule gets decidedly more difficult.

Five games on the road against San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Only the Hornets are below .500 and the Spurs, Thunder and Hawks are fighting for playoff positioning. Then it's home against Utah and San Antonio, followed by a roadie back-to-back against Denver (who definitely don't want to split the series against L.A) and Minny (a potentially tougher game because of the previous night's action). Finally, it's home against the Blazers (jockeying for a better playoff seed), then a reasonably charitable back-to-back against Sacto and the Clippers (who technically host, but let's call a spade a spade).

It's not inconceivable the Lakers would round into desired playoff form during the meatier days of late-March and early April, but all things being equal, a head start wouldn't hurt. The next four games provide the most ideal opportunity to begin the process, a tuneup opportunity before testing that flow against opponents more willing and able to provide challenge.

The flip side, of course, is fish shot in a barrel rarely decorate the wall of a discriminate marksman. One could just as easily downplay fantastic results against the NBA dregs, considering the Lakers' inconsistent work against elite competition this season. Four dominant games are matter of simply meeting expectations, as opposed to representing a roll in the making. They can only serve to provide concern, as opposed to a sign of things to come.

Either way, curious what the Land O' Lakers faithful thinks about the next 192 minutes (assuming no overtime) of the rest of the Lakers' lives. Let your voices be heard, por favor.

&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;br /&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/2905729/" mce_href="http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/2905729/"&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;On a scale of 1-10, how important are these next four games for the Lakers&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;span mce_&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href="http://answers.polldaddy.com" mce_href="http://answers.polldaddy.com"&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;opinion&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/span&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;&amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;br /&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;