Reporting from New Orleans — The way Phil Jackson sees it, 60 is the new 50.
The Lakers are 54-19, 3 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the NBA's best record and way off their long-ago dream of finishing 72-10, so they are settling for something else to keep their attention over the next couple of weeks — a 60-victory season.
"It's kind of like a distinction in this game," the Lakers coach said. "Fifty used to be what everybody pointed toward, or 55. To get to 60 really wasn't a possibility when I was playing because of the travel schedule, and the way you travel, but nowadays there's a chance. This team, they've got some pride in themselves and I think they want to do it."
They would have to finish 6-3, so it's a likely goal, a carrot in front of a team that continues to bump around in a gray area, too far behind Cleveland (58-16) to consider a serious run at home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and too far ahead of the rest of the Western Conference to care.
The Lakers are slowly casting an interested look at two teams in the West — "It looks like Portland or San Antonio, one of those two teams will be our [first-round] opponent," Jackson said — while continuing to mull their present existence.
They rebounded from a lousy effort Friday in Oklahoma City with a victory Saturday in Houston. They play a quick New Orleans team Monday and a dangerous Atlanta team Wednesday before returning home.
"I think we're in a good position," forward Pau Gasol said. "We're in the same position we were in pretty much last year and I like the ending that we had last year. But there's a long ways to go. We still have a lot of tough games coming up, a lot of tests, to help get us there."
Jackson, sensing the need for rest after three road games in four nights, cancelled practice Sunday in New Orleans.
On Monday, the Lakers face a Hornets team that recently welcomed back Chris Paul, who missed 25 games because of torn cartilage in his left knee. Paul is averaging 7.7 points and 6.7 assists in three games since returning.
Former UCLA point guard Darren Collison has moved to shooting guard to accommodate Paul's return, giving the Hornets plenty of speed but no height in the backcourt. Each player is listed at 6 feet tall. In fact, the Lakers saw a similar set-up in Houston when 6-foot guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry played together.
"That's an awful small guard crew if you're going to go up against a Kobe Bryant as an off guard," Jackson said.
Ron Artest catches on quickly.
The Lakers are a respectable eighth in the league in turnovers, averaging 13.6 a game, but their one-sided losses this month can be directly related to huge one-game jumps in the category.
The Lakers had 18 turnovers in a 91-75 loss to Oklahoma City and 20 in a 98-83 loss to Charlotte.
"The history of the Lakers this season: if we turn the ball over, it's going to be a tough game for us," Artest said.