LOS ANGELES -- Derek Fisher has seen just about everything in his 14-year NBA career. And he calmly promises that, recent dire headlines and Internet postings to the contrary, the sky is not falling in the Lakers kingdom.
"It's the nature of what happens in an 82-game schedule," Fisher said of a recent rough patch in the team's drive for a third consecutive title. "You have these highs and lows, and with us every little thing we do gets chronicled so much."
Oh, but there has been so much to chronicle.
The Lakers are 28-11 and riding a five-game winning streak after Tuesday's blowout of hapless Cleveland. But as Hollywood's team arrives at Oracle Arena on Wednesday night to play the Warriors, there are signs that one of the NBA's marquee teams has cracks in its armor.
After jumping out to an 8-0 start, the Lakers have looked, well, mortal. They recently lost four of six games -- including a listless performance in the much-hyped Christmas Day showdown against Miami.
Kobe Bryant has gone public about the fragile nature of his surgically repaired right knee. Coach Phil Jackson recently called out Bryant for shooting too much. There was a confrontation between Jackson and Ron Artest at a practice.
All that is accompanied by a steady stream of those pesky "distractions" -- whether it's Lamar Odom's participation in an upcoming reality TV show or Jackson trading verbal barbs with the likes of Dallas owner Mark Cuban.
The antics are similar to the Lakers of the late 1990s when a young Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal still were trying to figure out how to win championship rings.
"It definitely takes me back to my early years with the Lakers where the question always was: 'Are these guys going to get it done?' " Fisher said. "But we're working our way through it. It's just that what we're trying to do is hard. It's not an easy thing."
The Lakers haven't been making it any easier, and Southern California is plenty stressed out about its favorite team.
"At the end of the day, you have a bunch of guys who are ready," Artest countered. "We know everybody is gunning for us. But we've got guys who actually are gunning for them. And when you have the big guns gunning for those little guns, we're dangerous.
"We're pretty upset about what's going on," he added. "We understand what we've got to do. We didn't fall asleep. We didn't retire. We're still here."
Right now "here" means looking up at the rejuvenated San Antonio Spurs, who have been the Western Conference's powerhouse this season. How unusual is that? In the previous two seasons, the Lakers were out of first place in the conference for just 30 days and none after Dec. 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.
From Jackson's perspective, it all comes down to health. For instance, center Andrew Bynum -- who fortifies the Lakers' defensive presence -- missed the early part of the season coming off knee surgery.
"We're getting our team back," Jackson said. "We had to play guys long minutes because we were missing people. We wore guys like Lamar and Pau Gasol down, and we're paying the effects of that. But now we're starting to get some legs back and are playing better."
But former Warrior Matt Barnes went down Friday with cartilage damage in his right knee that could keep him out for two months. And that comes on the heels of Bryant opening up to New York Post columnist Peter Vecsey about his own knee trouble.
"I have very little cartilage under my right kneecap, it's almost bone on bone," he said. Of last year's playoffs he added that, "Until I got it drained the first time during the opening round against the Thunder, I could not bend that knee at all. "... It was swollen as hell and it hurt like hell. Luckily, things got a lot better once I had the procedure."
For much of this season, Bryant hasn't practiced.
Artest is healthy, but he just hasn't played well.
After being a model citizen last season, the volatile Ron-Ron had an exchange in practice with Jackson that initial media reports described as heated. Artest, however, disputes that.
"It was a gentlemen's conversation," he said. "Honestly. It was as professional as it's going to get. Some people wrote some really negative, harsh things about it. But I don't know what more anybody wants. I acted like a gentleman."
If that's not enough drama, it was just announced that Odom -- proving that he's now officially a member of the look-at-us Kardashian clan -- will star with wife Khloe Kardashian in a TV series called "Lamar and Khloe."
Meanwhile Jackson, presumably in his final season of coaching, keeps stirring the pot with his mouth. When he recently commented that the season-ending injury to forward Caron Butler would hurt Dallas, Mavericks owner Cuban jabbed back at Jackson's relationship with Jeanie Buss, the daughter of Lakers owner Jerry Buss.
"I love that Jeanie Buss' boy-toy had something to say about us," Cuban told Dallas reporters last week. "I don't know if it was his thought or Jeanie's thought, but it's nice to know that she lets him speak in public about other teams."
It was just another story line in the soap opera.
Highlighting the thought that the Lakers have been sleepwalking is the fact that Gasol recently slept through a morning shootaround. But as Fisher said, it's a long season and there's plenty of time for the Lakers to resolve their issues.
Don't try selling that to Artest, though.
"No, I don't feel that way," he said. "You can choose whether or not to have these stretches -- especially with a team like this. It shouldn't happen."
Note: Warriors guard Monta Ellis is recovering from flulike symptoms and will be a game-time decision against the Lakers on Wednesday night, The Associated Press reported.
Lakers (28-11) at Warriors
(15-22), 7:30 p.m., CSNBA