- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Phil Jackson padded around in flip flops and Sasha Vujacic attempted free throws off his foot at the end of practice. If the Los Angeles Lakers are worried about opening the playoffs against the Utah Jazz, it sure didn’t show.

“We’re just ready to go,” Kobe Bryant said Saturday. “Everybody is pretty relaxed. It’s a long haul so you can’t psych yourself through the roof already.”

Tell that to Laker fans and pundits, who already have Los Angeles advancing to face Portland in the Western Conference semifinals.

“We’re just not talking about stuff like that,” Jackson said. “But we won’t condemn those people, that’s their job. That’s what they have to do. They have to make choices like that, put themselves on the line. I’m not going to put myself on the line.”

What the Lakers will cop to is that anything less than winning the NBA championship for the first time since 2002 would be a major blow. They came close last season, losing to Boston in six games, including a 131-92 rout to end it that still stings.



“I notice a little bit more attention to detail, a little bit more focus,” Bryant said about his team’s playoff mind-set. “Myself and Derek (Fisher) are probably the two grumpiest, so leave me the hell alone.”

The Lakers earned the top seed in the Western Conference in a runaway, racking up 65 victories to become the third-winningest team in franchise history.

They open against Utah on Sunday at Staples Center, where the Lakers are 16-3 against the Jazz since the arena opened in 1999 and have won the last six in a row between the teams.

The Lakers got a huge boost when Andrew Bynum returned April 9 after missing 32 games because of a knee injury.

He and Pau Gasol give the Lakers two 7-footers to patrol the paint, and the duo helped Los Angeles score 58 points down low Tuesday night in a 125-112 victory over the Jazz to close the regular season.

Bynum and Gasol dominated on a night when Bryant scored just 16 points in 26 minutes. Bynum’s 22 points were his best effort since returning four games ago, while Gasol had 20 points.

The Lakers won the season series, 3-1, losing 113-109 at Utah.

The Jazz limped into the eighth and final playoff spot, losing seven of their final nine games. Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams, their top three scorers, didn’t play together for the first time until Feb. 23 because of injuries.

Boozer missed the most games of all _ 44 _ after left knee surgery, with the Jazz going 25-19 in his absence.

“We’re as ready as we’re going to be,” Boozer said. “Now it’s just time to go play and play smart, but at the same time follow our instincts.”

Okur hasn’t practiced all week because of a strained right hamstring and sat out again Saturday in the team’s final workout before leaving for Los Angeles.

“We’ll just try to keep it going without him, but we definitely need Memo out there,” Williams said. “The sooner he can get back the better.”

Okur said his chances of playing Sunday were low.

“I can’t even run 100 percent, so it’s hard to play if you can’t run,” he said. “But the good thing is I’m getting better.”

Utah coach Jerry Sloan said Jarron Collins would likely start in Okur’s place, as he did Tuesday, getting five points and six rebounds. C.J. Miles is a game-time decision with a dislocated left index finger.

“I think our players will come together and if the effort’s not there, then we don’t have much of a shot,” Sloan said. “If you don’t play hard, it doesn’t make any difference who you’re playing.”

Williams had 25 points and 13 assists in Okur’s absence Tuesday against the Lakers, while Andrei Kirilenko came off the bench to score 20 points.

Stopping Williams from driving inside will be up to Bynum and Gasol.

“It’s really important that our bigs and our wings get back in transition because he loves to penetrate and probe, and really, he’s aggressive with it,” Gasol said. “That will be a huge thing, if we can keep him under control. Because of his size and speed, he’s a dangerous guard.”

Jordan Farmar is day-to-day for the Lakers because of a foot injury, but otherwise they aren’t hurting.

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