The Lakers may say it's too early to look ahead to the postseason.
But Magic Johnson
isn't in that camp. He can already tell which potential first-round opponent would give the Lakers the most trouble.
"The biggest challenge would be Portland because of the hate factor," Johnson said Sunday, walking in a corridor underneath Staples Center. "They don't like us and we don't like them. That would be a very physical and tough series, even though we would win and we're better overall. But they really know how to play us, they're well-coached and they're tenacious."
The Lakers have defeated the Trail Blazers three times this season, including a 25-point victory in early November. But Johnson cited the Lakers' two close wins against Portland -- a five-point overtime thriller at the Rose Garden in late February and a four-point win last Sunday -- as a reason why the Blazers would still prove challenging.
Portland has won nine of its last 11 games against the Lakers at home. It's too early to say whether the Lakers will draw that matchup. They entered Sunday's game against New Orleans with a one-game lead over Dallas for second place in the Western Conference, while the Trail Blazers were a half-game ahead of the Hornets for the sixth spot.
"They're big enough to play us tough," Johnson said of Portland. "There's other teams that I think would be a good series, but [Portland] would be the toughest series."
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Photo: Magic Johnson on Feb. 18, 2011. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters