LOS ANGELES - 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, well-schooled in diplomacy, also pays homage to New Orleans as a club that must be taken seriously.
But the Lakers, who await their opponent in the Western Conference finals that begin Wednesday at Staples Center, could very well be the team to beat. They are at the halfway point of a potential trip to their first title since the Shaq and Kobe days of 2002.
"We want to keep it rolling," Kobe Bryant said Friday night after scoring 12 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter of a 108-105 victory over the Jazz.
The Jazz rallied from a 16-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to get within two points in the final minute, but Bryant was able to stop the momentum shift and avoid having to play a Game 7 on Monday.
The Lakers are an NBA-best 8-2 in the playoffs in the rugged West. They are 6-0 at home.
And they just got through handing the Jazz only their sixth home-court loss in 47 games this season, including the playoffs.
The win was just the second by a road team in 23 second-round games.
Bryant said following Friday's game that he was his "normal 100 percent." So the back spasms that recently plagued him apparently won't be an issue.
Now the Lakers have won 16 of 19, 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."