Players enjoying the layoff

Times Staff Writer

The Lakers returned from their 24-hour respite, the first round against Denver tucked squarely into their back pockets, and found themselves facing two questions.

Utah or Houston? Rest or rust?

After a day away from the office, the players were diplomatic Wednesday about who they’d like to play in the next round, though there seemed to be a tilt toward Houston because of Utah’s overwhelming home-court environment.

They were more outspoken about not losing their sense of sharpness, even though there will be at least six days between games, if not longer.


“I’m hoping that the Utah-Houston series goes seven games and maybe like three overtimes,” forward Lamar Odom said. “Our job is done as far as the first round and we want to see these teams battle each other, beat each other up. And then we’ll be ready for them.”

In other words, there aren’t any concerns about being rusty.

The Lakers earned the right to rest, seeing how Game 5 against Denver would have been Wednesday, if necessary, and Game 6 would have been Friday.

“It’s good to have a couple days and get your body right,” said Kobe Bryant, and he might be understating things.


If Utah finishes off Houston on Friday, the Lakers will play Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday at Staples Center. But a seventh game in the Utah-Houston series would be played Sunday, meaning the Lakers wouldn’t play against the winner until Tuesday or, less likely, Wednesday at Staples Center.

Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher did not have to practice Wednesday, but a spirited scrimmage ended with Sasha Vujacic making the winning three-point basket before being mobbed by Odom and Vladimir Radmanovic.

The players might be enjoying a long layoff, but Coach Phil Jackson is less enamored of it.

He pointed to a 10-day break in the 2001 playoffs after the Lakers rolled through the first three rounds with an 11-0 record. When they finally played again, they lost Game 1 of the Finals against Philadelphia, 107-101, in overtime at Staples Center.


Of course, the rest of the story had the Lakers winning the next four games to take the NBA championship and finish a record-setting 15-1 in the playoffs, but Jackson was nonetheless leery of all this lag time.

“As a coach, you’d like them not have more than three [days off],” he said. “There’s a certain sense of tension that comes along with playing a lot . . . the longer you get away from it, the more you forget about it.”

The Lakers will have light practices today and Friday before parking themselves in front of their TVs to see if their opponent will be known by the end of Friday night. For whom will they be rooting? Probably not the Jazz. “Utah doesn’t lose too many games at home,” Odom said.



Fisher was booed when the Lakers played in Utah this season but said he could manage the emotions that would come in a playoff series against the Jazz.

Fisher spent last season with Utah before asking out of his contract to move to a city with better medical care for his daughter, who was fighting a rare form of eye cancer. “Obviously, if it’s the Jazz, some of the personal emotion will be there,” Fisher said. “But it means so much to me to be able to help this team win a championship that I feel I can keep myself in a place where winning four games would be all I’d be focused on.”


Bryant sustained minor ankle pain when he landed on Denver’s Eduardo Najera’s foot after attempting a three-point shot in Game 4. “He didn’t roll it, but it did bother him,” Jackson said. “He does [also] have some tendinitis in that right knee, but he doesn’t ever own up to it too often.”