Now they get ready for Rockets

Finally, the wait is over.

The Lakers, home resting after beating the Utah Jazz in five games of their first-round series, will meet the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the conference semifinals Monday night at Staples Center.

Houston took care of business Thursday night at home, finishing off the Portland Trail Blazers in six games. In many ways, despite Houston’s having 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming, the Rockets may present a less challenging series than the Trail Blazers, who have defeated the Lakers eight consecutive times in Portland.

The Lakers swept the season series from the Rockets, 4-0, and are 5-2 against them over the last two seasons.


“It hasn’t been easy. It wouldn’t say it was easy,” Pau Gasol said after practice Thursday. “I think we match up well and we proved it this year. That still doesn’t guarantee you a free pass or a victory in the games. You’ve still got to go out there and beat them, because they are a very tough team.”

The Rockets hadn’t advanced out of the first round since 1997.

Yao, drafted in 2002, finally reached the conference semifinals in his fourth try.

Utah guard Deron Williams offered his assessment of a Lakers-Rockets series after L.A. sent his team on vacation.

The Rockets “can definitely pose a problem,” Williams said. “Yao is a tall task for any team to handle. The Lakers have more quickness than most with Pau up front and [Andrew] Bynum and Lamar [Odom]. They just have a lot of weapons, and that can be tough for Houston to handle.”

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said his assistants had different views on how the Rockets-Trail Blazers series would end.

Assistant Brian Shaw is assigned to scout the Trail Blazers and Jim Cleamons is assigned to scout Houston.

“So they’re intent about looking at them for a seven-game series,” Jackson said.

“Jim’s looking at them like it’s going to be a six-game series.”

Cleamons was right and that now means the Lakers’ coaching staff will “put together” a game plan today while the players take the day off.

Lakers enjoy rest

The Lakers last played Monday night, when they finished off the Jazz in five games, so they will have not played in a game in six days by the time they face the Rockets.

They took Tuesday off, practiced Wednesday and Thursday, and will take today off before going back to work Saturday and Sunday in preparation for the Rockets.

“It’s got its advantages and pluses and it’s got its downside, obviously,” Gasol said. “Either way, I think it’s a better situation that we’re sitting and relaxing and getting rest instead of playing and competing.”

Walton update

Jackson said Luke Walton has made enough progress from his injury that he may be available to play in Game 1.

Walton suffered a sprained left ankle in Game 4 against the Utah Jazz last Saturday night. An MRI exam revealed a partial tear of the deltoid ligament.

But Jackson said Walton was walking and did core exercises Thursday.

“It looks like he’s going to be player that can play in this next series, for sure,” Jackson said.