As Magic Johnson enters the late stages of his career, a trip to the NBA Finals means more than it once did.

"In the post-Kareem years, we haven't been there," Johnson said, referring to retired teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "And I think the older you get, the more you want to be there, too, and have an opportunity to win it."You just want to end up with as many opportunities as you can on your way out."

Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers can take a giant step toward another appearance in the finals with a victory tonight over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Lakers already have a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference finals after a 111-106 victory Saturday on the Blazers' home court.

Johnson said it's tough to get to the finals, even though the Lakers have been there eight times in the last 11 years.

"Even to get to this point where we're at now is very hard, very difficult," he said. "And to actually go the championships, that's very difficult. Then to win it, oh man. The competition is so much tougher now."

The Lakers are unbeaten in four road games in the playoffs, and the Trail Blazers need only look at NBA history to know how important it is for them to end that streak tonight.

Since 1969, no team has lost the first two games at home and come back to win a playoff series.

"Heck yeah, we've got to win," the Blazers' Danny Ainge said. "There's no doubt about it. It's fatal if we lose. That's the way I look at it. It's that simple."

Portland coach Rick Adelman admitted the Blazers would dig a giant hole with a second straight homecourt loss. But he stopped short of calling it a must-win situation.

"Even if we lose, the series is far from over," he said. "But I think if we win, we've really put ourselves in good position again because we feel we can win down there."

The Lakers' Byron Scott agrees with Adelman that Los Angeles can take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series and still face trouble the rest of way.

"This is a very, very tough team to beat," he said. "Somebody said if we won two, could we sweep them? I still don't think it will ever be a sweep in this series because of the way we match up. I always looked at this series to go six or seven games no matter what happens Tuesday."

Scott expects a fiery effort from a Portland team that had the NBA's best regular-season record at 63-19.

"They're going to come out hungry. They're going to play tough," he said. "They're going to be real physical. They're going to be real aggressive and we're going to have to match that effort."