LOS ANGELES (AP) -Derek Fisher says the road to the NBA title goes through San Antonio since the Spurs are the defending league champions.
The veteran Lakers guard also pays homage to New Orleans as an up-and-coming club that must be taken seriously.
Fisher is well-schooled in diplomacy.
But the Lakers, who await their opponent in the Western Conference finals that begin Wednesday night at Staples Center, could very well be the team to beat. They are at the halfway point of a potential journey to their first title since the Shaq and Kobe days of 2002.
Boston seemed the team to be most wary of entering the playoffs, having gone 66-16 while ruling the weaker Eastern Conference. But the Celtics have looked anything but dominant in the postseason, losing all six of their road games. And they're no cinch to beat Cleveland in the conference semifinals or Detroit in the conference finals, should they get there.
The Lakers, meanwhile, are an NBA-best 8-2 in the playoffs in the rugged West. They are 6-0 at home, where they haven't lost since March 28.
And they just got through handing the Jazz. It was Utah's only sixth home-court loss in 47 games this season, including the playoffs.
``It feels great,'' Kobe Bryant said Friday night after scoring 12 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter of a 108-105 victory over the Jazz. ``It's been a great journey and we want to keep it rolling.''
The win was just the second by a road team in 23 second-round games.
``That was another wire-to-wire game for us and the finish was impressive when you're on the road,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. ``A real solid performance by our players.''
Jackson gave his team off Saturday and Sunday, although many players are expected to show Sunday at team headquarters in suburban El Segundo for conditioning and treatment.
The Spurs and Hornets meet Monday night in New Orleans to decide that series. The Lakers were 2-2 against both teams during the regular season, beating each at home in the final week. They opened a 30-point lead before topping the Hornets 107-104, and dominated the second half in routing the Spurs 106-85 two days later. San Antonio star Manu Ginobili sat out that game.
``We have home-court advantage in the next round and that's a big factor,'' Jackson said. ``We know probably San Antonio the best of the two teams, having played against them a variety of times. But I think either team is a difficult matchup for us. We anticipate a tough series.''
The Spurs and Lakers last met in the playoffs four years ago, when Los Angeles won 4-2 to advance to the conference finals.
The home team has won each of the first six games of the Spurs-Hornets series, so New Orleans has, at the very least, a psychological edge entering Game 7.
``The Hornets have obviously shown that they aren't here on accident,'' Fisher said. ``A lot of people have been just waiting for the other shoe to drop as though they're just going to fall out of this thing. But that's not going to happen. They're a serious basketball team.''
Bryant said following Friday night's game that he was ``normal 100 percent.'' So the back spasms that plagued him in a Game 4 loss at Utah last Sunday and slowed him in a Game 5 win at home Wednesday apparently won't be an issue.
Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal led the Lakers to three straight championships starting in 2000. But until sweeping Denver 4-0 in the first round of these playoffs, they hadn't won a postseason series after O'Neal was traded to Miami in July 2004.
Now the Lakers have won 16 of 19 games, including an 8-1 finish to the regular season.
``It's a great accomplishment to get to the conference finals,'' Bryant said. ``But we believe we can accomplish much more.''

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