With only four games remaining in the regular season, the Lakers' first-round opponent is starting to come into focus.
Phil Jackson summed up the battle between the Spurs, Trail Blazers and Thunder for seeds Nos. 6-8 in the West thusly:
"The odds are that San Antonio has a tiebreaker with Oklahoma, that really sets things up," Jackson said. "Portland has the fewest amount of games and probably has the easiest schedule. I think they're at home three out of four games. We have them obviously on Sunday, they have Dallas on Friday, but outside of those two opponents I think they have non-playoff opponents. I'm kind of thinking maybe Portland will be in sixth, and then it's a tossup and if it's a tie, the tie goes to San Antonio. So we're kind of looking at Oklahoma really as the odd's-on favorite to be in that spot."
Kobe Bryant was complimentary of the Thunder on Thursday.
"I love what Oklahoma is doing and how well they're playing," Bryant said. "This is a young team that everybody is kind of sitting around and saying, 'OK, they're playing well but eventually they're going to fall off, eventually,' and they don't. They just keep going … This is a serious team."
Andrew Bynum had his own preferred playoff opponent picked out.
"I want to see Phoenix again, me personally, because they beat us twice my rookie and sophomore years," Bynum said.
Jackson emphasized that no matter who L.A. ends up facing, the series will be a challenge.
"I think any team right now that's in the playoffs is a rival right now," Jackson said. "I don't know where we're going to be seeded. We don't know how it's going to come out. We have enough good teams in the Western Conference to consider everybody a rival."
The Lakers have other problem besides figuring out which team they might meet first.
On a night when Bynum announced he planned to come back for the first game of the playoffs and Bryant sat for what appears to be the first of back-to-back nights to rest his weary legs, another Laker, Shannon Brown, had an injury flare-up of his own.
Brown, who has been playing with a strained right thumb for several weeks, aggravated it in the second quarter, jamming it against Chauncey Billups' body when the Denver veteran made a cut to try to receive a pass. Brown said the collision caused a calcium deposit in his thumb to burst and "set me back another couple weeks."
Brown pointed to the discoloration on his thumb after the game, showing how the digit had a bone bruise on the outside portion of his hand and had a tear on the inside portion where the joint is.
He left the arena wearing a plastic cast covering his right thumb that was attached to his hand with Velcro.
"I hope the people kind of feel me for what I'm going through," Brown said, alluding to his 3-for-12 shooting line. "The thumb is the most important finger on the hand and I'm just trying to make it happen. I always stay working, stay in the gym, trying to figure it out, trying to find ways to make it a little bit easier on myself."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com