LOS ANGELES, DEC. 8 -- The Los Angeles Lakers had been written off right smartly, thank you, given the bum's rush as soon as they stumbled out of the gate this year in the Pacific Division. They remembered, as they always do, and payback has been delightful.

Despite a loss in Utah Friday, the Lakers, who host the Washington Bullets Sunday night at 10:30, are on the rise again, the beneficiaries of a recent eight-game win streak that put them right back in the hunt in the Western Conference.

Even though people knew Los Angeles had a new coach in Mike Dunleavy, a new $18 million man in free agent Sam Perkins and a new starting center in Vlade Divac, when the Lakers lost four of their first five, a whispering campaign claimed "Showtime" was history.

"That's just fine," Dunleavy said. "People can write what they want to write. Hopefully that'll take off some of the desire teams have had in the past to knock the Lakers off when they come into their building. We have a team that, if we play to our abilities, have a chance to win the championship."

The team acknowledged things became a little a little stale under former coach Pat Riley, who left after last season and now is with NBC. But Riley took his system with him, and the Lakers had to adjust not only to Dunleavy's new offense, but playing with Perkins and guard Terry Teagle, acquired from the Warriors.

After the slow atert, which included three losses at home, Dunleavy made a change. He benched A.C. Green and put Perkins in the starting lineup. Divac has started to round into form after reporting to camp out of shape. And since Perkins has started, the Lakers are 9-2.

"It wasn't really Vlade's fault," Dunleavy said. "He could not put the time in the weight room this summer because he had to play for his national team {which won the world championships}. That was a hindrance as far as the Lakers were concerned, but I'm sure his countrymen were very pleased."

The Lakers have also rallied around James Worthy, who was arrested last month for solicitation after calling an escort service and allegedly bringing undercover police officers to his hotel room. On the court, Worthy appears not to have been affected, averaging nearly 24 points a game.

And Earvin Johnson is still Magic, leading the league with four triple doubles. Los Angeles has gotten back to fastbreaks with a defense that has held several opponents under 100 points. And more than ever Johnson has gone to posting-up.

"You don't fully appreciate him unless you coach him," Dunleavy said. "He really is the heartbeat of this team. He knows how to push all the right buttons. He's really in control. As far as practice is concerned he works harder than anybody else, so everyone has to fall in line behind him."