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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lakers look forward to another Finals trip

LOS ANGELES (AP) It's going to be Orlando, not Boston, in the NBA Finals. Even though the opponent is different, the Los Angeles Lakers are still consumed with redeeming themselves after last year's abject failure.

News photo
Second time around: Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are looking to erase the memories of their loss to the Boston Celtics in last season's NBA Finals. AP PHOTO

Their humiliating 131-92 dismissal by the Celtics in Game 6 last year still stings.

"We know what it feels like to lose and we just want to come out there and amend that," L.A. coach Phil Jackson said Sunday.

A year ago, Pau Gasol had never played in the NBA Finals, so he was excited just to be there.

Not this time.

"The team right now is hungry and focused," he said. "This year we have a mission. It's like, 'OK, we're in the finals, now let's go to work.' It's a big difference."

Another difference is that the Lakers have home-court advantage this year. Games 1 and 2 are Thursday and next Sunday at Staples Center before the best-of-seven series moves to Orlando for up to three games.

"It's nice to have home-court advantage, but it's still not something to rely on in this kind of a series," Jackson said. "Orlando is one of the better road teams in the league the last two years."

No doubt Jackson will remind his team that both Houston and Denver won at Staples in the past two rounds, costing the Lakers home-court advantage.

"That's something you don't want to do in the finals with this kind of 2-3-2 setup," he said. "It's just about trying to get a leg up right off the bat so you have advantage."

After taking Saturday off, the Lakers reconvened Sunday for a video session. Except for Gasol and Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant and the other starters departed without speaking to the media.

Having played 13 games in 26 days to reach the finals, the Lakers are taking advantage of the six-day break before making one last push at a 16th NBA championship.

"We got really banged up in these last two series," Jackson said. "There are a number of guys that physically could use the days off."

They include Lamar Odom (sore back), Trevor Ariza (sore hip and groin) and Luke Walton (ankle).

"We've been in situations where we had days of rest and then we were a little sluggish at the beginning of a series," Gasol said. "Now there's no slacking, no slipping or nothing. We're ready to start and we're ready to play."

Bryant admitted during the Western Conference finals that he's not sleeping much. He's been sending text messages to Gasol in the wee hours and getting responses.

The Lakers' immediate problem is how to contain Dwight Howard. He averaged 21.5 points and 16 rebounds when the Magic swept them in two regular-season games.

"I don't think there have been many players like him because of his physical gifts and attributes," Gasol said. "You have to be really focused on him, don't let him get any deep catches and don't let him get going or confident."

Howard does most of the damage inside, while Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus and Rafer Alston are threats from 3-point range.

"It's to your advantage not to double against this team," Jackson said. "They're going to threaten you with that (outside shooting), but really it's their inside game that you have to be concerned about."

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