No Time to Exhale for the Lakers

Shelley Smith's latest dispatch comes from the Lakers' Monday practice in preparation for Game 1 of the Western Conference finals:

Immediately after the Los Angeles Lakers disposed of the Houston Rockets on Sunday in Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinal series, Kobe Bryant was celebrating, laughing and hugging his daughters like there was no tomorrow. But now it is tomorrow and that's when Bryant and his teammates are quickly back into work mode at Monday's practice, not wanting to exhale too long or too deeply with the newly-respected Denver Nuggets on deck. When Monday rolled around, to a man in Lakerland, it was as if Sunday's Game 7 win over Houston never happened.

"I don't know if I [slept] better," said Derek Fisher, who had admitted to fitful nights of sleep leading up to Game 7. "Because the turnaround is so quick and you have to be mindful not to allow your mind or your body [to go] 'aaaaaah.' Because before you know it, it's [tipoff], and you can't generate that energy and mental focus you're going to have to carry."

And they'll have to carry it because by the time the Western Conference finals begin on Tuesday night, the Lakers will have had only one full practice and a shootaround to try to prepare for what George Karl's group has had five days to concoct (even if they didn't know exactly for whom to concoct it).

Unable to fully input chess-match wizardry because of the short turnaround, Phil Jackson admitted his team will have to try to win on emotion and guts alone, something they had trouble conjuring at times against a Houston team that gave them all they could handle. And consider this: If you think Houston was tough and scrappy, multiply that and you have the Nuggets.

"We know it's going to get harder," said Pau Gasol. "But if we play hard and with intensity and energy, I think we're gong to be in good shape. But it's really important we start off well, start off strong, make a stand in the first game. Take advantage of the situation at home. Against Houston that's where it all started going in the wrong direction."

Jackson said he had his team work on the basics Monday -- defense and the importance of not letting Denver run its transition game -- and said they will work on the nuances as the series develops.

And that suits his players just fine. They say they're ready to play with the mettle they seemed to find, finally, on Sunday against Houston.

"No matter how many plays you know or you've got to ready for, you've got to play hard," Gasol said. "At this point of the year the energy and effort should be there no matter what time you have to prepare."

But that's the million-dollar question: Will the Lakers carry the effort into Tuesday night?

"We believe our guys know what to do," Jackson said simply.

The coach seemed reenergized on Monday as well, perhaps because of the newness of the challenge Denver will present ... or maybe he actually did get a good night's sleep for the first time in some time.