EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -In the words of coach Phil Jackson, the Los Angeles Lakers set themselves up for success by entering the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the West.
What does that really mean?
Not that much.
``You can throw a blanket over the first six teams in this conference,'' Jackson said Thursday, referring to the fact that those six were separated by only three games at season's end.
Dallas and Denver weren't bad either, giving the West a full complement of eight playoff teams with a minimum of 50 wins. So the Lakers realize that starting with the Nuggets, they figure to have a tough time no matter who they meet in the postseason.
``To see how close one through eight is, that's truly amazing,'' Derek Fisher said.
``That team could be where we are now,'' Lamar Odom said of the Nuggets. ``This is playoff time. It's going to be a challenge. They're great 1-on-1 players, they've got four or five guys who can get 20 points in a game.''
Game 1 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday at Staples Center, where the Nuggets have gone 2-15 against the Lakers since the arena opened in 1999.
There's where the homecourt advantage comes in, and the Lakers have that throughout the conference portion of the playoffs.
The Lakers were 3-0 record against the Nuggets this season, winning by an average of 16.3 points. But the teams haven't played since Jan. 21.
``Hopefully it means we understand that if we play the way we're capable of playing, we can beat this team,'' Fisher said when asked about the significance of the season sweep.
``They're going to be a lot better team now than they were the last time we saw them,'' Luke Walton said.
The freewheeling Nuggets are led by Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, who ranked 3-4 in the NBA's scoring race, just behind Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Anthony was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol earlier this week, but Bryant said he didn't believe that would be a distraction.
The Lakers haven't won a playoff series since 2004, when they reached the NBA finals. They failed to qualify for the postseason in 2005 and lost to Phoenix in each of the last two postseasons, when they entered as underdogs.
That's not the case this year.
``It's much different,'' Bryant said when asked for a comparison. ``Last year we were still searching for an identity going into the playoffs. We've had an identify for a while.''
The Lakers have momentum as well, entering the playoffs having won eight of their last nine games.
``We just need to continue doing what we've been doing,'' Bryant said.
While No. 8 seeds seldom eliminate No. 1 seeds, it happened just last year when Golden State upset a Dallas team that won 67 regular-season games.
``They're probably the most (dangerous No. 8 seed ever),'' Odom said of the Nuggets.
The Warriors lost to Utah in the second round.
Jackson pointed to defense as a key for the Lakers in this series.
``This is a team that will allow you to take a shot so they can run,'' he said. ``It's going to be a wide-open series. I don't think this is going to be a 90-point series.''
The Nuggets and Lakers ranked second and fourth, respectively, in the NBA in scoring. The Lakers did a much better job defensively.
``There's going to be a point in every game where we're going to have to play team defense,'' Jackson said. ``You hope your team defense is adequate to hold them down to a reasonable number.''
The Nuggets-Lakers winner plays the Jazz-Rockets winner in the second round.
``I like our bracket,'' Jackson said, no surprise considering New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas are in the other bracket.
The Lakers, who completed the regular season Tuesday, were the only playoff team to finish before Wednesday, and they don't open the playoffs until Sunday.
They took Wednesday off and didn't practice Thursday, either, instead meeting late in the day for a videotape session.
``I think it's good,'' Bryant said of the lengthy break.
``You need the rest,'' Odom said. ``We'll get out there and practice tomorrow.''

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