<
>

Lakers not planning to relax yet

While the Lakers already have the No. 1 seeding wrapped up in the West, they aren't looking past the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday. Especially because there is a strong possibility the Blazers will be the Lakers' first-round playoff opponent.

"It will be very competitive," Pau Gasol said. "They're going to come out hard, we understand that. They're tied with San Antonio, one game behind Oklahoma, so they're fighting for a spot. To us, it's going to be a game that we compete very hard and try to win."

Added coach Phil Jackson: "It's our job to really compete. We want to uphold our end of the bargain. We're not going to give any game away to anybody that's been struggling all season. We're coming out to compete against Portland the way we should."

Here's a look at the final regular-season games for the three teams within a game of one another for the eighth seeding and a date with the Lakers to start the playoffs:

The Trail Blazers, currently seeded No. 7 by virtue of holding the tiebreaker over San Antonio, have three games remaining: Sunday in Los Angeles, Monday at home against Oklahoma City and Wednesday at home against Golden State.

The Spurs, currently seeded No. 8, also have three games left: Saturday in Denver, Monday at home against Minnesota and Wednesday in Dallas.

The Thunder, currently seeded No. 6, but the team Jackson said Thursday was the "odds-on favorite" to come to L.A. to tip off the Lakers' playoffs schedule on April 18, also has three games left: Sunday in Golden State, Monday in Portland and Wednesday at home against Memphis.

Once L.A. plays Sunday, however, the team will likely cut the minutes of its starters in the final two games of the season against Sacramento on Tuesday and the Clippers on Wednesday.

"The other games, Sacramento and the Clippers, we'll play those games according to how we do and how our players are doing," Jackson said. "Hopefully we'll have some momentum [and] play guys the kind of minutes that we like to play to keep people in rhythm."

While parsing down minutes is one thing, Jackson did not plan on sitting any of his players for complete games the way Kobe Bryant opted out of Denver and Minnesota.

"I haven't anticipated that," Jackson said. "I don't think any of them want to take it off and I don't see any reason to force them to take it off."

Ron Artest, who has been playing with a strained left thumb, said he "hasn't really thought about" sitting out one of the final three games.

"If you're hurt, then yes [you should sit out]," Artest said. "But if you're not hurt, then you might as well play."

Practice makes perfect

The Lakers had a 2½-hour practice Saturday, which is rare at any point in the season, let alone in April the day after playing a back-to-back on the road, but Jackson said the teaching time was necessary.

"It ended up being longer than we anticipated," Jackson said. "We started out hoping to go pretty quickly but our concentration level was very light again today. But, a four-hour flight almost coming back from Minnesota last night, it was a long night."

When asked if the practice was long, Gasol quipped, "No kidding. … Did I just say that out loud?"

"We worked on some details offensively," Gasol continued, "because Portland, the way they play defense, the way they set up, they force you to do different things out there so we worked on that."

Artest said the team is conditioned for lengthy practices by now.

"We practice all the times after back-to-backs," Artest said. "We get into a city, practice, go back-to-back and practice again. Coach got us used to it."

Added Gasol: "We were a little tired to be honest, but we came in, had to do the work, did the work and hopefully it pays off tomorrow."

Do the hustle

In the first half of Friday's win in Minnesota, Artest rumbled toward the sideline to try to save a loose ball and ended up careening into a broadcast table at center court.

Lakers broadcaster Stu Lantz joked on air he would give Artest his dry cleaning bill after the play caused his drink to spill all over his suit.

"It was hustle, you know?" Artest said. "I didn't do that all season, I think it was the first time I did that all season. It will carry over to the playoffs.

"I got him good? That was his tea [that spilled]. My shoes got a little tea on them too."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.