- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- The saying goes it takes one to know one, and so it was an informed opinion coming from the coach of the team with the top record in West, Gregg Popovich, when he dubbed the Los Angeles Lakers, and not his San Antonio Spurs, as the best team in the conference Thursday.
"I think they are the best team in the West," Popovich said during his pregame remarks before the Lakers hosted the Spurs. "I think the struggles are overblown by you guys and gals. They are who they are. They've been doing this a long time. They just won two [championships] in a row again and there's no doubt perhaps there's going to be some nights when it's just not all there emotionally. We run into that now, we've got the best record and we run into that and we haven't won a championship in a long time so we don't have that excuse and it happens to us."
Coming into Thursday's game, the 34-15 Lakers trailed the 40-8 Spurs by 6.5 games for first place in the West.
"I think they're the best, I really do," Popovich said. "They're put together the way they need to be put together. They got the experience. They know what they're doing. [Lakers coach] Phil [Jackson is] going to be patient with them and do what he does and they'll be there come playoff time."
Said Jackson: "I'd like to agree with him, [but] my record doesn't show that right now."
In the first meeting of the season for the two teams on Dec. 28, the Spurs beat the Lakers 97-82 in San Antonio.
It was the second time in two seasons that Popovich offered public support for the Lakers in the midst of scrutiny of Los Angeles' on-court struggles.
Last April, when the Lakers lost to the Spurs for their fourth loss in six games at the time, Popovich said, "We're all trying to hide from the Lakers in the first round and that's the truth."
San Antonio had the seventh-best record in the West at the time, and had the Spurs slipped to eighth, they would have had to play the top-seeded Lakers to open up the playoffs.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.