Lakers not worried about playoff matchups

The Lakers are within 11/2 games of catching the San Antonio Spurs, but do they want to pass them?

It’s a hilarious debate, truly, the Lakers on an absolute roll and the Spurs absolutely getting rolled these days, but finishing ahead of the Spurs could mean a more difficult second-round playoff series.

Instead of playing the Dallas Mavericks, whom the Lakers don’t fear at all — just ask Matt Barnes — a rematch with Oklahoma City could be waiting.

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Anybody remember the 110-89 pasting the Lakers absorbed in Game 4 of last season’s first round against the Thunder? Or the last-second Pau Gasol follow they needed to take Game 6 in Oklahoma City? The Lakers didn’t so much win that series as survive it.

With all due respect to Portland, New Orleans and Memphis, who figure to be little more than a baseball card in the spoke of the Lakers’ bicycle tires, it borders on ridiculous to even look so far ahead, but that’s what fans (and sportswriters) do. Not to be forgotten is that immensely improving Denver could beat Oklahoma City in the first round.


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The Lakers were brought into the down-the-road conversation on an otherwise quiet Saturday at their practice facility.

“I think that’s what scared teams do, try to position themselves,” forward Lamar Odom said. “We’re not going to run from a team not to finish first. That’s the problem with some teams.

“Being around Phil [Jackson] and Kobe [Bryant] and Derek [Fisher], you just look up at the banners. We don’t put division titles up and things like that. Our goal is to be the best team and if we can finish as the best team in the West, that’s an accomplishment.”

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Jackson isn’t going to sandbag anything. Besides, if the Lakers pass San Antonio, they’ll secure home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

“We want to win every game we can win,” Jackson said.

He’ll kill you?

A few hours after getting ejected Thursday against Dallas, Barnes released a T-shirt that read on the front, “Matt Barnes Will Kill You … If Ron Artest Doesn’t First.”

The back of it reads, “Killah Bees” and has images of Barnes, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown with bee-like bodies.

“That was my [apparel] partners that actually released it at that time,” Barnes said Saturday. “It was good timing, I guess. The shirts had just got there, like, two days ago. It didn’t hurt us. All three of us got thrown out and the shirts went crazy [with demand].”

Barnes did not divulge specific sales numbers, but it will help make up some of the $17,650 he forfeited by serving a one-game suspension after shoving Dallas guard Jason Terry.

Barnes will be back Sunday against Denver but still isn’t entirely done discussing Dallas.

“In Golden State, we showed how to beat Dallas — go in there and take it right to their chin and they back down,” Barnes said. “I don’t think nothing’s changed since then. Hopefully we get a chance to see them again.”

Barnes was on the eighth-seeded Warriors when they stunned top-seeded Dallas in the first round of the 2007 playoffs.

Carmelo who?

The Nuggets are 14-4 since trading Carmelo Anthony and have improved their defense dramatically, giving up 95 points a game since sending him to New York.

They’ve also picked up scoring from former Knicks forwards Danilo Gallinari (15.2 points a game) and Wilson Chandler (12.8 a game).

“Their attack is a lot different because it’s not pre-determined,” Odom said. “You know they were going to go to Melo, go to Melo and run pick-and-roll with Chauncey [Billups]. This team hits you from all angles and whoever’s open shoots the ball well. They’re a team to be reckoned with.”

Billups’ departure in the trade has allowed second-year point guard Ty Lawson to prosper. He averaged 16.3 points and 7.5 assists last month. Raymond Felton, yet another acquisition in the Anthony deal, is averaging 10.8 points and 6.6 assists with the Nuggets.

“Sometimes when you lose a superstar, the ball moves a little bit better and everything happens a little bit more like a team wants to play,” Jackson said. “Everybody has the joy of touching and participating in the offense. And of course they got some real good talent when they got the trade.”