The Los Angeles Lakers are just about ready to begin a run at their fourth straight NBA title.
But first they have to find out where they’ll begin the opening round of the playoffs.
Los Angeles likely won’t know where its headed until after its regular season finale against the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers won six in a row before Sunday’s 101-99 loss at Portland. The setback, coupled with the Trail Blazers’ win on Tuesday, cost Los Angeles any shot at fourth place in the Western Conference and home-court advantage in the first round.
Kobe Bryant scored 20 of his 32 points in the first quarter as the Lakers pulled away early and never looked back in Tuesday’s 126-104 rout of Denver.
The win hardly cleared up Los Angeles’ travel schedule.
The Lakers will finish fifth or sixth in the West, depending on what happens Wednesday. They open the playoffs Saturday or Sunday at either Dallas, Minnesota or Portland.
If Minnesota beats Memphis and Portland beats the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers will finish sixth and face Dallas in the first round.
Regardless of the outcome, the Lakers know a fourth straight title will likely come harder than any of the previous three.
“This is truly going to be a remarkable challenge, what we’re trying to do,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher said after practice Monday.
“For all of us as individuals, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love challenges. We’ve done it for three years, we plan on doing it a fourth year. We respect the challenges, we respect the teams, we still believe we’re going to do it.”
The Warriors, who have failed to reach the postseason since 1993-94, will complete another non-playoff campaign without forward Troy Murphy.
Murphy was suspended for the season finale after fighting with Clippers center Sean Rooks in Monday’s 122-113 loss in Oakland.
STANDINGS: Lakers - 3rd place, 9 GB, Pacific Division. Warriors - 6th place, 20 GB, Pacific Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 29.8 ppg and 5.9 apg; O’Neal, 11.2 rpg. Warriors - Jamison, 22.3 ppg; Murphy, 10.2 rpg; Arenas, 6.3 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Warriors, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 22; Warriors, 114-110. At Los Angeles, Earl Boykins scored five points in the final 38 seconds as the Warriors snapped a six-game losing streak at Staples Center. O’Neal led the Lakers with 28 points and nine rebounds.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lakers - 18-22 on the road; Warriors - 24-16 at home.