David Zalubowski, Associated Press
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. Derek Fisher still has a soft spot for the Utah Jazz. That being the case, he'd love nothing more than a date with his former team in the second round of the playoffs.
"I'm pulling for them in terms of those being my guys, guys that I'm close to," the Los Angeles Lakers' point guard said this week. "I still consider a lot of them friends, I want them to be successful. It's not because of the teams in terms of the basketball aspects or matchups."
The Lakers, who completed a sweep of the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, will face the winner of the Houston-Utah series in the second round. The Jazz lead the Rockets 3-2 entering Game 6 tonight in Salt Lake City.
Should the Jazz win, they'd face the Lakers on Sunday at the Staples Center to begin the second round. If the Rockets win, Game 7 of that series would be played Sunday in Houston, and the Lakers would face the winner Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
The Lakers have reached the second round for the first time since 2004, when they lost to the Detroit Pistons in the NBA finals to complete a dominating five-year era in which they won three championships.
Fisher, who had played his first eight NBA seasons with the Lakers, left to sign a free-agent contract with Golden State, where he played two years before being traded to the Jazz. Also departing were Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, Gary Payton and Rick Fox along with coach Phil Jackson, who would return a year later.
Fisher was the feel-good story of the postseason last spring. He left the Jazz before Game 2 of the conference semifinals to go to New York, where his 10-month-old daughter, Tatum, was treated for a cancerous tumor in her left eye, but returned in the third quarter and scored all five of his points in overtime of Utah's 127-117 victory over Golden State.
Utah reached the conference finals before losing to eventual champion San Antonio. Fisher asked the Jazz to release him from his contract last summer so he could concentrate on finding the best medical care for his daughter, and that turned out to be in Los Angeles.
Fisher had a ready answer when asked if he might pull for the Jazz, even a little, in the second round.
"No, not even close," he replied.
Fisher was the only Laker to express a preference for the team's second-round opponent.
"No. Thanks for asking though," Jackson replied when the question was posed.
"We're hoping the Utah-Houston series goes seven games, three overtimes (in Game 7)," Lamar Odom said. "We want these teams to battle each other. At this time of year, it doesn't matter (who advances), we feel like we can beat anybody."
Should the Jazz and Rockets go seven games, the Lakers would be idle for over a week.
"As a coach, you'd like them not to have more than three (consecutive days) without a game," coach Phil Jackson said. "The longer you get away from it, the more you forget about it."
Jackson said the Lakers won't practice Saturday if the Rockets extend the series tonight.
The coach might not be too keen on so much time off, but the players feel otherwise.
"That's fine with me," Pau Gasol said. "I love getting rest, I love having time to have my body heal. That's a luxury you get by sweeping."
The Lakers were the only team to accomplish that feat.
"Time off doesn't hurt you," Odom said. "We'll be in the gym, working out, practicing against each other so we can keep our timing."
Kobe Bryant, who averaged 33.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the first round, said he'll watch tonight's game on television.
"We believe we played well against Denver, we believe we can play better," Bryant said, adding that additional practice time would help in that regard. "We understand the situation that we have here, the opportunity that we have. We're all hungry, appreciate of the opportunity that we have."
When asked which venue he preferred, Odom laughed and said: "Both great cities; makes no difference."
Said Bryant: "Utah."
When asked why, he replied: "I figured everybody would say Houston."
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