Last year we went through some tough times after that 16-1 start and the players themselves never lost heart and got into despair about our playoff chances. We haven't worried about making the playoffs, even when Shaq and Kobe were new to the team we were an obvious playoff team and considered a sleeper championship contender. This season, everyone believes that the Mavs/Kings/Spurs are better and that we will not win the championship. EVERY OTHER YEAR we have been the favorite in the eyes of the fans, even last year. We struggled more, as a cohesive team, when Shaq was back than we did when he was out. These things ALWAYS give cause to wonder and that means that we no longer have as much of a mental edge as we did these last three years. Just look at the way teams played us this year, like they wanted to jump in with all the other teams and pick on the dying giant. Teams have more confidence against us. Even if we play strong defense where it would have been enough in past seasons to squelch an opponent and usually brought about a double digit win, we still lose or struggle because the other team shot/shoots better in the face of harder defense. Higher shooting happens when a team feels confident. Shooting percentages go UP, even against much stronger defense. We have no idea how well teams may shoot against us in he playoffs, even if we play our best defense, and that is where most of the despair, questioning and mental unrest is based. We aren't used to being considered a non-threat. I happen to think we will finish the season @ 51-31 and face Portland in the first round. We will sweep the Blazers, and the Mavs/Kings/Spurs in the second and beat (by a slim margin) the Mavs/Kings/Spurs in the WCF. We will beat the East opponent 4-1. I think we have the four-peat pretty well locked up, but can't you see where the team has less confidence and feels more vulnerable than they did last year, regardless of how that is manifested (possibly as an emotional advantage, who knows...) on the court?