With the Lakers currently appearing entrenched as the number-two seed in the playoffs, it seems they have plenty of advantages, but finishing the last four games on a high note remains paramount.

The defending champions would play one of three teams in the first round: the Portland Trail Blazers, the New Orleans Hornets, or the Memphis Grizzlies.

Of the three, the one the Lakers would love to avoid is the Blazers. Historically, the Lakers have had trouble playing in Portland, but are 3-0 against the Blazers this season.

The Lakers play Portland tonight at the Rose Garden, and the last time the two teams played there, the Lakers won in overtime.

Currently, Portland is not the team many were expecting. Brandon Roy has seen his productivity decline due to injury, Greg Oden remains sidelined, and Marcus Camby is currently inactive with a neck strain.

The Blazers, however, have improved with the arrival of swing man Gerald Wallace who arrived at around the trade deadline, and off-season acquisition Wesley Matthews has exceeded expectations.

Though Los Angeles would be heavy favorites to advance past Portland, the Lakers would love to have as short a series as possible to avoid fatigue problems throughout the following rounds.

Between the Hornets and the Grizzlies, the Lakers would probably rather play the Hornets.

Head coach Phil Jackson often states that he prefers playing a team as geographically close to Los Angeles as possible, but in this case, Memphis and New Orleans are about the same distance from Southern California.

The Grizzlies have a tough defender to guard Kobe Bryant in Shane Battier, bulky big men in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and have split the four-game season series with the Lakers.

Quick point guards have historically given the Lakers problems, and though Mike Conley fits the descripion of a quick guard, there probably is no better small guard in the NBA than Hornets' star Chris Paul.

Paul has seen his numbers decline this season, which might be due to a lack of help from his teammates. High-scoring forward David West is out for the season, placing a heavy scoring burden on Paul.

Another major reason the Lakers would prefer New Orleans is because of the Hornets' lack of an inside presence, something the Lakers can exploit with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Also, the Lakers have won all four games against New Orleans this season.

With just four games remaining on their schedule, the Lakers still need to continue winning. There are two teams with better records than the Lakers: San Antonio and Chicago. But the champ are just barely ahead of Boston, Miami, and Dallas, and risk falling behind those teams if they continue their slide.

Should the Lakers advance to the second round they could face the Mavericks, and should Los Angeles advance to the NBA Finals, having home-court advantage over perhaps the Celtics or Heat would be very important, as well.

The upcoming schedule isn't very friendly. The Lakers play Portland, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Sacramento. Only Sacramento is not bound for the playoffs.

Snapping the three-game losing streak, avoiding Portland, and getting home-court advantage against Dallas, Miami, and Boston might be critical for the Lakers' hopes of winning a third consecutive championship.