Lakers flags are flying again from Southland cars. . . .
Can MVP flags be far behind? . . .
The MVP is one of a handful of NBA awards sponsored for the first time this year by Kia Motors, which is probably why it was presented to Kobe Bryant in a hotel ballroom Tuesday instead of at the Toyota Center in El Segundo. . . .
Shaquille O'Neal was given his trophy in El Segundo in 2000, when the facility was called the HealthSouth Training Center and the award was not sponsored. . . .
Three-time MVP Larry Bird, noting that Bryant has been the NBA's premier player for years, told Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick before this week's announcement, "When someone told me the other day that Kobe hadn't won an MVP trophy, it sort of made me feel like I wanted to throw mine away." . . .
Talk that these playoffs potentially could be the greatest in NBA history has cooled now that only one first-round series went the full seven games, half ended in five or fewer and home teams are 10-0 in the second round. . . .
Pau Gasol and the Lakers have been only too happy to sap the suspense, winning their six games by an average of more than 12 points. . . .
By the way, in each of the previous seven times the Lakers opened the playoffs with six consecutive victories, dating to the George Mikan era in Minneapolis, they reached the NBA Finals. . . .
Six times they won titles. . . .
Only in 1989 did they fall short, Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons winning in a Finals sweep after the Lakers entered the series 11-0. . . .
Still, the Lakers are underdogs tonight at Salt Lake City. . . .
While calling it encouraging to Lakers fans that teams coached by Phil Jackson have never lost a playoff series after winning Game 1, reader Chohong Choi of Hong Kong cautions, "There's always a first [time] for everything." . . .
Reminds Choi: "Four years ago at this time, he had never lost a Finals appearance, and when the playoffs started two years ago, he had never lost a first-round series nor blown a 3-1 series lead." . . .
Choi sounds like a coach. . . .
Beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist Eric Fonoimoana, a lousy three bucks short of $1 million in career earnings when he hung up his trunks last summer, came out of retirement last weekend at Huntington Beach, pocketed $400 and joined 20 others in the sport's increasingly less exclusive millionaires' club. . . .
Karch Kiraly won nearly $3.2 million on the sand. . . .
Noting that Philip Anschutz's Kings rank 107th among the 122 pro sports teams included in ESPN the Magazine's Fan Satisfaction Rankings, reader Terrance Dushenko of Hermosa Beach wonders, "Are those 15 teams below them in the darkest outposts of communist China? Can there really be sports owners who care less about their fans than the man who wants to own all the real estate on planet Earth? One can only hope not." . . .
If UCLA wins its fourth consecutive NCAA women's water polo title this weekend at Stanford, seniors Jillian Kraus, Kamaile Crowell, Gabrielle Domanic, Courtney Mathewson and Brittany Rowe would join former teammate Kelly Rulon as the only UCLA women in any sport to win four NCAA team championships. . . .
Four men -- Ricci Luyties, Doug Partie, Roger Clark and Wally Martin -- played on four title-winning UCLA volleyball teams. . . .
Francis Benavidez, a former USC distance runner who was 94 when he died last week in Northridge, attended every Trojans home football game from the time he enrolled in 1933 through the 2006 season, save for three years in the Navy and a year spent teaching overseas, his widow, Mary, says. . . .
A longtime track and cross-country coach at Dorsey High, the Manual Arts High graduate ran for Dean Cromwell-coached Trojans teams that won NCAA track championships in 1935 and '36 and were runners-up in 1934. . . .
Of the Dodgers' consecutive off-days, only Thursday's was scheduled. . . .
Noted Vin Scully after the New York Mets opened a 12-0 lead in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 12-1 blowout at Dodger Stadium, "Believe me, you can take a 12-0 loss, or whatever, and go home and have a nice dinner. You would not be able to have a nice dinner if you lose, 3-2, in the ninth inning." . . .
Tom Lasorda probably could.