Once over lightly


Any time the Lakers feel a surge of overconfidence, Derek Fisher has some advice that goes something like this: Remember Boston, Game 6.

If a 39-point loss to the Celtics in last season’s finale doesn’t get the synapses firing, well, nothing will, but the Lakers claim they won’t take their next opponent lightly despite having won all four regular-season games against the Houston Rockets by an average of 13 points.

“The way things ended last season puts us in the same boat of not wanting our season to end when we’ve lost our last game,” Fisher said. “Even if there are moments of complacency where it appears that there’s not a sense of urgency, we believe strongly and collectively that that’s not the case.”

They’ll have a chance to prove it again in Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinal tonight at Staples Center, assuming everybody’s healthy enough to suit up.

Luke Walton (partially torn foot ligament) has rapidly improved to the point of being a game-time decision, but Kobe Bryant missed Sunday’s practice because of a sore throat.


He is considered day to day, a team spokesman said, though the only surprise would be if he didn’t play tonight, given his well-documented threshold for pain and discomfort.

“I’ve seen him [play] injured and sick,” forward Lamar Odom said. “You know how he loves to compete.”

There will be plenty of intriguing sidebars in this series.

Andrew Bynum will almost surely return to the starting lineup, where he will try to improve upon his puny five-point, three-rebound average in the first round against Utah.

“I think he’s really revved up for this and he’s excited about it,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who estimated there was a 90% chance Bynum would move back into a starting role.

“We hope that he stays under control and remembers his principles about defense and rebounding, and the offense will just come.”

Out on the perimeter, Fisher will match up against second-year blur Aaron Brooks, who took over the Rockets’ point-guard job when Rafer Alston was traded to Orlando before the February deadline.

In the first round, Fisher was assigned Jazz guard Deron Williams, a physical 6-foot-3, 207-pounder. Now he’ll match up against the 6-foot, 161-pound Brooks, who averaged 15.3 points and 4.3 assists in the first round against Portland while shooting a commendable 44.8% from three-point range.

Brooks had 27 points and seven assists in the series opener against the Trail Blazers, who never seemed to recover in a series that lasted six games.

“That quickness really bothered Portland,” Jackson said.

Oh, and about that first game: The Rockets pummeled the Trail Blazers in Portland, 108-81, a big step in becoming one of two lower-seeded teams to win a first-round series this season.

Neither the Lakers nor Rockets can claim fatigue tonight. Houston will have gone four days without a game, the Lakers a full seven days.

Perhaps that’s why Pau Gasol shot for an extra 30 minutes after practice Sunday, with Sasha Vujacic feeding him for a series of mid-range jumpers.

“Just making sure my stroke is ready,” Gasol said, smiling.

Kupchak finishes fourth in voting

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak tied for fourth with Chicago Bulls GM John Paxson in the voting for NBA executive of the year.

The award was won by Mark Warkentien, the Denver Nuggets’ vice president of basketball operations. Warkentien orchestrated the November trade for guard Chauncey Billups, who helped the Nuggets become the second-seeded team in the Western playoffs.

Warkentien received nine of the 30 votes submitted by league executives. Cleveland’s Danny Ferry was second with seven votes, Orlando’s Otis Smith was third with six votes, and Kupchak and Paxson each had two votes.

Kupchak finished second last season to Boston’s Danny Ainge.