Who do you want in the Finals?

So, if the Lakers take care of business (as many expect) and eliminate the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals (in five or six games), who would you prefer they play in the NBA Finals? The Boston Celtics or the Orlando Magic? I would guess many of you would rather see the hated Celtics get a serious beating as a payback for the 2008 Finals. I wouldn’t take either the Celtics or Magic lightly, though. I also would be wary of the Suns.

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Schedule update

Ah-ha, finally, the rest of the schedule for the Western Conference finals.

Game 1, Monday at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT.
Game 2, Wednesday at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT.
Game 3, May 23 at Phoenix, 5:30 p.m., TNT.
Game 4, May 25 at Phoenix, 6 p.m., TNT.
Game 5, May 27 at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT, if necessary.
Game 6, May 29 at Phoenix, 5:30 p.m., TNT, if necessary.
Game 7, May 31 at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT, if necessary.

P.S. No practice today. More news, notes and quotes Friday. Maybe even a prediction, too.

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Gasol ailing

Pau Gasol got an excused absence from practice today. The team’s medical staff sent Gasol home after he complained of sinus trouble. The Lakers aren’t scheduled to practice Thursday, but they hope Gasol will rejoin them for Friday’s workout. The team plans to increase the intensity of its practices from Friday through Sunday. Game 1 of the Western Conference finals isn’t until Monday night at Staples Center, so there’s plenty of down time.

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Conference finals schedule (so far)

Here is the schedule (so far) for the Western Conference finals:

Game 1, Monday at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT.
Game 2, May 19 at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT.

P.S. I heard one of the Lakers’ team buses backed into Carlos Boozer’s SUV while leaving the arena. Nice ending to Boozer’s career with the Jazz. He’ll be a free agent July 1.

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Lakers 111, Jazz 96

SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers handled their business and eliminated the Utah Jazz in Game 4 tonight, advancing to the Western Conference finals for the third consecutive season. They will face the Phoenix Suns. Game 1 is set for Monday at Staples Center. The Lakers will have until then to rest, recover and prepare for the Suns, who are similar to the Jazz in many ways. Both teams are undersized up front, but both are driven by superb point guards. The Lakers counter with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol up front. Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom could be X-factors for the Lakers, who beat the Suns, 3-1, in the regular season. Jason Richardson could fill the same role for the Suns.

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Third quarter: Lakers 80, Jazz 67

SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers almost let Game 4 get away from them in the third quarter tonight. they got in trouble as the Utah Jazz charged back from a 22-point deficit in the second quarter. The Lakers lost the period, 26-22, but managed to stay in front. Kobe Bryant scored 12 of his 24 points so far in the third quarter.

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Halftime: Lakers 58, Jazz 41

SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers outscored the Utah Jazz, 29-17, in the second quarter and threatened to turn Game 4 tonight into a runaway by halfway. OK, who’s kidding who? It was a rout. The Jazz had no answer for Pau Gasol, who had 17 points and seven rebounds by halftime. Kobe Bryant added 12 points. The Lakers’ bench responded, too. Lamar Odom scored seven points, Shannon Brown had six and Jordan Farmar added three. Carlos Boozer had a rough start, scoring only four points on 1-for-6 shooting. Deron Williams led the Jazz, who were trying to avoid being swept for the first time their history, by scoring 11 points.

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First quarter: Lakers 29, Jazz 24

SALT LAKE CITY — If you haven’t read today’s piece on Pau Gasol, go read it right this instant. Everything written there is holding true again so far in Game 4. He has been peerless in the paint, scoring 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting and grabbing four rebounds. Shannon Brown punctuated the quarter with a dunk in the closing seconds.

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Vujacic update

SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers are (almost) whole again. Sasha Vujacic practiced today for the first time since spraining his left ankle during the Lakers’ regular-season finale against the Clippers on April 14. He said he probably won’t be ready to play in Game 4 against the Utah Jazz on Monday night, but he should be fit to start the Western Conference Finals when they begin next week. He was the last player with a debilitating injury. Almost everyone else on the roster is bruised in some way, shape or form.

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It’s closing time

SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers have had good success in close-out games recently. They are 1-0 so far during the 2010 playoffs, having eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder on their first try in Game 6 of their opening-round series last month. They were 3-1 last season en route to the NBA championship. They were 3-0 during their run to the Finals in 2008. The also were 1-1 when facing elimination, forcing the eventual champion Boston Celtics to a Game 6 with a victory in Game 5 at Staples Center. Their last blown chances were in 2006, when they squandered a 3-1 series lead and lost to the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers can eliminate the Utah Jazz with a victory Monday in Game 4.

UPDATE: After further research by the team’s crack media relations dept., the fact is the Lakers squandered a chance to eliminate the Houston Rockets in the second round last spring. They lost Game 6 before taking the decisive Game 7. I messed that up in the original post by writing that the Lakers were 4-0 in close-out games last spring.

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