EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -Pau Gasol went to the beach. Kobe Bryant spent time with his young daughters, going swimming and taking in a movie. Lamar Odom took the opportunity to ``chill-ax.''
Those sound like normal enough weekend activities at this time of year, but not for key members of a team about to begin playing in the Western Conference finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers afforded themselves some down time by beating the Utah Jazz 108-105 on Friday night to avoid a Game 7, which would have been played Monday night.
``It was great,'' Gasol said after practice Monday. ``You don't know how happy we were to close the series in six games and have a chance to disconnect, have a few days off.''
San Antonio, the defending NBA champion, faced New Orleans on Monday night to determine the Lakers' opponent in the conference finals, which begin Wednesday night at Staples Center.
``It's definitely a plus that we get a couple more days off than the rest of the teams,'' Gasol said. ``That's definitely an advantage, to close out a series a little earlier.''
The Lakers didn't practice Saturday, and coach Phil Jackson gave Gasol, Bryant, Odom and Derek Fisher - veterans who play the most minutes - permission to stay away Sunday as well, although Gasol reported to team headquarters for treatment on his ankle and back.
``Five or six days off is too many in the playoffs. Two or three or four days off is perfect,'' said Gasol, adding he spent about two hours at the beach Sunday.
``It feels good, the breeze,'' he said. ``It was hot.''
Bryant, who said he took his daughters to see ``Narnia,'' practiced Monday for the first time since injuring his lower back May 11 in Game 4 of the Utah series.
``It was a good chance to get fresh legs,'' he said of the time off. ``I feel 100 percent. The Western Conference finals is always fun to play in - it's the Final Four of the NBA. We'll get to work tomorrow.''
Odom spent a quiet couple of days off.
``I just took my feet off the ground, got some rest,'' he said, elaborating on his `chill-ax' remark. ``It helps us mentally, it helps us physically on the court.''
The Lakers' planned to watch Game 7 of the Spurs-Hornets series together.
``We just watch and have fun, kick back with one another, then we'll get to work tomorrow,'' Bryant said. ``We're just watching as fans tonight, at least I will.''
Bryant picked up the tab at a team get-together before the playoffs began and again May 2, when the players watched the final game of the Houston-Utah series. He wouldn't say whether he'd do so again Monday night.
When told several teammates had expressed the hope he would pay again, Bryant replied: ``That's just assumptions. We'll go to a fast-food restaurant.''
Teammate Luke Walton suggested another way to settle the bill on Sunday.
``We like to play a little credit-card roulette, where everybody throws their credit card in a hat,'' he said. ``Last person out gets to pay. It may be a little more fun to do it that way anyway.''
Regarding the Lakers' next opponent, Bryant said: ``We've got a lot of friends on both teams. It's going to be a fun matchup no matter who we play.''
The Lakers were 2-2 against both teams during the regular season.
``I have two coaches who will be taking notes,'' Jackson said, adding that the winner, although perhaps a bit travel-weary, will have at least one advantage over the Lakers.
``We've been sitting around for a while,'' he said. ``They'll probably be more in tune with playing competitively. We'll catch up in a quarter or a half.''
Jackson said forward Trevor Ariza, who hasn't played since breaking his right foot Jan. 20 in practice, could be a factor in this series. Ariza was given full clearance last week.
``He looked good today,'' Jackson said. ``I wanted him to have another practice tomorrow in which he has an opportunity to play and get comfortable in what we're doing. There's still some recognition skills, he's reorienting himself to what we're trying to do.
``His athleticism is always a factor, he runs the lanes, he can cut well out of our triangle offense. His defense is aggressive, and he anticipates the pass. There's a lot of things that Trevor does naturally that are beneficial to the team and the way we play at both ends of the floor.''

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