Lakers await Finals

Kobe Bryant stared straight ahead, delivering his answer without emotion. His teammates were out of earshot, though Bryant undoubtedly told them the same thing.

Asked what it would take to close out Denver in six games, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar replied, "Be cold-blooded, go out there, and execute. We have to stay focused and poised, and try to cut them up."

Led by Bryant's merciless efficiency, the Lakers sliced and diced the Nuggets to advance to the NBA Finals for the second consecutive year. Los Angeles turned what had been a back-and-forth series into a rout Friday, winning, 119-92, on the road.

"Now we're in a place where we didn't get the job accomplished last year," Bryant said. "Hopefully we will this time."

Battered, bruised and just plain exhausted, the Lakers took yesterday off. They'll get a few days' rest before the Finals begin Thursday.

"We're back to where we wanted to get to, and we're probably playing at the highest level that we have all year," Luke Walton said.

A year ago, the Lakers breezed into the Finals with a 12-3 playoff record before losing to Boston in six games. This year, they're 12-6, having been tested by the Rockets and the Nuggets in back-to-back series after beating Utah, 4-1, in the first round.

Foreign affairs

Former Phoenix Suns 5-foot-9 guard Yuta Tabuse is leaving Japanese basketball for another shot at the NBA. Tabuse, the only Japanese player to make it to the NBA, had been training with Japan's national team, but the Dallas Mavericks invited him to their summer camp next month.

- Associated Press