Less than a month from now, the playoffs will start and the Lakers will brace themselves to try to defend their NBA championship.
But the road they must travel to a repeat will be difficult.
That was a topic Lakers owner Jerry Buss and Coach Phil Jackson discussed Monday while the team picture was taken at the practice facility in El Segundo.
Buss and Jackson recalled the challenge the Lakers faced when they were trying to win their third consecutive NBA championship in 2002.
"We just talked about the time we went through the three toughest teams in the West in Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento one year," Jackson said. "Somehow or another, it makes your team really prepped for a championship round."
The Lakers swept a loaded Portland team, 3-0, in the first round of the '02 Western Conference playoffs. They defeated the Spurs in five games in the second round and had to go seven games to dispatch the Kings in the conference finals, winning Game 7 in overtime in Sacramento.
The postseason run this season could prove to be equally harrowing for the Lakers.
If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would meet the Trail Blazers in the first round. The Lakers had lost nine consecutive games in Portland before winning there Feb. 6.
Utah looms as a possible second-round opponent for the Lakers. The Jazz was 28-8 at home before Monday.
If the Lakers reach the conference finals, their likeliest opponent appears to be Denver or Dallas.
The Nuggets lead the season series, 2-1, including a win at Staples Center, and are confident they can beat the Lakers after losing to them in six games in the conference finals last season.
The Mavericks tied the Lakers in the season series, 2-2, including an early-season win at Staples, and made a big trade for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood with an eye toward matching up with the Lakers in the playoffs.
The Lakers have 12 regular-season games left. "I think all the teams that are going to be opponents in the West are going to be good," Jackson said.
As he made his way to his car, Lamar Odom had his left shoulder wrapped. It looked as though he had on a shoulder pad.
"I'm just icing the big lefty," said Odom, whose play has been hindered at times by pain in the shoulder.
And how was it feeling Monday? "I'm good," Odom said before he drove away.
Jackson has been displeased by an evident lack of effort on the Lakers' part in recent games.
The team didn't practice Monday but will be back at work Tuesday before leaving on a five-game, eight-day trip that starts Wednesday in San Antonio.
"I think a lot of it is about conserving energy at this time of the year," Jackson said. "How much you have to do to win. It's a win that you're going out for. Even though it's not the attitude I want to have, I think it's kind of something the players kind of self-imposed on themselves."