Updated: December 29, 2010, 5:21 PM ET

Lakers Turnaround In Sight

Saving The Lakers

By John Hollinger
ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- Let's start the morning with a sobering fact for Los Angeles Lakers fans: In NBA history, 361 teams have lost three straight games by 15 or more points.

Want to know how many of them won the title?

Would you believe one of them? It's true -- according to Elias, only the 1977-78 Washington Bullets went on to win a championship after dropping three straight by such margins during the regular season. And that Bullets team, I would add, was arguably the worst champion in league history.

All of which is part of the new reality for a Lakers team that is rapidly losing its sheen as the alpha dog in the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs are now six games ahead of the Lakers in the standings and just beat them handily head-to-head, while L.A. is icing its wounds after losing by 19 to Milwaukee, 16 to Miami and now 15 to the Spurs.

(This, incidentally, is one reason I keep harping on scoring margin as a predictor of future success or failure. Good teams, even great ones, can easily lose three straight games by close margins and march on. But getting your brains beat in three straight? Normally that is a much greater indicator of quality, or rather the lack of it. In fact, the last time it happened to the Lakers, in 2006-07, they finished with 42 wins.)

While no sane person would put the Lakers' odds of repeating as low as 1-in-361, it does offer a shot glass full of reality. Moreover, it's tough to blame this slump on injuries because all their key players are in the lineup -- and one of the losses was to a Milwaukee team fielding a skeleton crew itself.

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Year-Ending Deals

By Tom Haberstroh
ESPN.com Insider

As the new year approaches, several teams find themselves in the hunt for the playoffs. Here are some New Year's resolutions for six teams on the playoff bubble, according to John Hollinger's playoff odds, caught between making the leap or rebuilding for the future.

Houston Rockets
Current Status: 15-15, 1 game back
New Year's resolution: Find a taker for Yao Ming

There's a silver lining to the Yao injury news, after all. Whoever ends up with him by the end of the season will be responsible for the remaining portion of his $17.7 million expiring contract -- but there's a catch. Should a team deal for Yao's swollen expiring contract, insurance will pick up half the outstanding amount, making the deal far more appealing for potential buyers. It will be painful to part with Yao, given his long history and close ties with the Rockets organization, but don't be surprised if Rockets GM Daryl Morey creates February deadline fireworks for a second straight season and grabs some more depth at the center position.

Helping the Rockets' cause is Aaron Brooks' return from an ankle injury after being sidelined for more than a month. Once he gets his legs back, he should reclaim his starting job from Kyle Lowry. Lowry has regained his shooting stroke after a putrid start to the season, and the domino effect of Brooks' return should help the Rockets make their push; Houston has been 10.3 points worse per 100 possessions when Lowry leaves the floor to his replacements.

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