And now, the Lakers get to relax and enjoy themselves as they drift gently toward the playoffs, whenever they may begin.
Not quite. Reality beckons.
If Friday's game against New Orleans was big, today's game against San Antonio qualifies as big, even though it's becoming almost cliche to say with the playoffs still almost a week away.
But the season gets later and the Western Conference gets tighter, perhaps in historic proportion.
A conference has had seven teams with 50 or more regular-season victories only one other time (2001-02) since the NBA adopted conference play in 1970-71. If Denver or Golden State reaches the 50-victory plateau, league history will be made.
It's a reason why veteran Derek Fisher, he of 12 NBA seasons and, of course, "0.4" fame, couldn't remember a regular season like this.
"It would be hard to do," he said. "I don't think I can, not honestly. I don't think there's been a year where you legitimately feel like one through four or five [in the West], possibly six, depending on what market you write in, have a chance to win the championship."
Today's game is merely the latest episode.
The Lakers (55-25) are now tied with the Hornets, but they they own the tiebreaker in conference record. They lead the Spurs (54-25) by half a game, and a Lakers victory today clinches at least second place in the West.
A Lakers loss, however, gives San Antonio the advantage in the first playoff tiebreaker, head-to-head games, which the Spurs currently own, 2-1.
The Lakers have heard the stories all season long -- the Spurs are old, they're past their prime -- but don't subscribe to them.
After all, the Spurs have won four championships in the last nine years and have won 10 of their last 12 games, a no-longer-surprising late-season run for the veteran team.
"They aren't as old and slow as people like to say they are," Fisher said.
And they still play defense, holding opponents to 90.4 points a game, third-best in the league behind Detroit and Boston.
"The real key with San Antonio is about being able to score at the offensive end," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "We have to understand exactly what we're going to accomplish out there."
It looked as if the Lakers would rip through New Orleans on Friday, but then the second half rolled around and the Hornets turned a 30-point hole into a one-point deficit.
The Lakers still managed to win, 107-104, placing an even greater premium on today, if not Tuesday's regular-season finale against Sacramento.
"We know the importance of the two games that we have left," forward Pau Gasol said. "I think when we go back and think of the couple games we gave away, now we could have been in first and locked up that first spot.
"But it is what it is, and we have to think about reality."
For what it's worth, Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said the Lakers were championship contenders despite the unknown return date for Andrew Bynum.
"I think Bynum would certainly help them defensively, but you look at their team, they've got a great low-post game, a great isolation game and they've got it surrounded by a really good three-point shooting team," Dunleavy said. "And you've got mobility. You've got rebounding. You've got depth. I think the one area, obviously, Bynum can come back and help them is to block some shots and rebound and make them that much better."
Director Spike Lee will be filming Kobe Bryant today for an upcoming ESPN Films project. Lee will start shooting video early in the morning and follow Bryant throughout the day.
vs. San Antonio, 12:30, Channel 7
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 570; 1330.
Records -- Lakers 55-25; Spurs 54-25.
Record vs. Spurs -- 1-2.
Update -- The Spurs easily defeated Seattle on Friday, 95-74, despite Manu Ginobili's sitting out because of a strained groin. Ginobili, a leading candidate for the league's sixth man award, is listed as out for today's game according to a Spurs spokesman. Despite their rigid defense, the Spurs have struggled on offense, averaging only 95.3 points, 26th in the league.
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Race for No. 1
A look at the Western Conference playoff picture heading into the final week of the regular season:
*--* Rk Team Rec. Division Games remaining 1 Lakers 55-25 Pacific San Antonio, Sacramento 2 New Orleans 55-25 Southwest Clippers, at Dallas 3 San Antonio 54-25 Southwest at Lakers, at Sac., Utah 4 Utah 53-27 Northwest Houston, at San Antonio 5 Houston 54-25 Southwest at Denver, at Utah, Clippers 6 Phoenix 53-27 Pacific Golden State, Portland 7 Dallas 50-30 Southwest at Seattle, New Orleans 8 Denver 48-32 Northwest Memphis, Houston 9 Golden State 48-32 Pacific at Phoenix, Seattle *--*