By Jennifer Nelson

Shannon is in her third year as a Laker Girl, and loving every minute.
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LOS ANGELES, June 8 -- Arrive at STAPLES Center 3½ hours prior to tipoff, practice, grab some dinner, relax, stretch and run through the game plan for the night.

It’s not the to-do list for the Lakers, but for the 18 hip-shaking, hair-flipping, crowd-mesmerizing dancers who make up the 2004 Los Angeles Laker Girls.

And just like the players, the Laker Girls have stepped it up for the Finals – increasing the number of routines they perform from six to seven per game and having 18 girls, instead of the usual 16, out on the court each night.

“The atmosphere is completely different [now that it’s The Finals],” said third-year Laker Girl, Shannon. “There are cameras everywhere, and everyone’s got this nervous energy, wherever you go.

"But then also the fans are more inclined to be cheering and stay in their seats and stay ‘til the end of the game. I think everyone’s really excited and really, really pulling for the Lakers to go all the way.”

Shannon shared some of the insights and highlights of being a Laker Girl, what it’s like to be on the court during The Finals, and which Laker would be the best dancer.

THE TOUGH QUESTIONS

How many routines per game?
“Usually we do six. There are a few games where we do seven, like today, but for the most part we usually do six.”

How many different routines over the course of a season?
“It can average anywhere from 17, 18 to 25, so we have a whole bunch. It’s a lot.”

How many times do you change outfits during a game?
“We change at least three times, but sometimes we’ll add a T-shirt or we’ll throw on a warm-up over what we have, so if you’re watching as a fan it can either look like three or it can look like five.”

How quickly do you change?
“We go as fast as we can because we don’t want to miss the game either. So we definitely change as quick as we can and get back out here. The only time it gets hard is if we have to pin something in or whatever.”
The best part:
“Performing at the games. Definitely being at the games… What’s really cool about our job is not only are we out there dancing, but we’re huge fans. We are into every moment of the game. We are watching the plays, yelling at the refs, doing all that stuff – we’re fans, too.”

Differences between this season and last:
“Last year, I think with every game we were nervous, like 'come on guys, come on, we can do this, we can do this.' Because for so long we were winning, and that last game last year, I know all of us were very disappointed along with the team… But this year everyone believes, wholeheartedly believes, that the Lakers can win.”

Have you ever seen any of the Lakers dance?
“Not out here. Of course we’ve seen Shaq do some stuff now and then. There was a video last year, our intro video for Lakers TV and he did a little dance. That’s about it.”

From your expert dancing opinion, who would be the best dancer?
“I would say Shaq because he has the most energy and he’s not afraid to try anything it looks like.”

Funniest experience during a game:
“I guess I would say some of the funnier times are just when players come tumbling down on top of us. Of course you’re laughing about it because you can be sitting there and if you just even turn away for a second, someone can plow you over. So, I think that’s probably the funniest. For the most part, we take everything we do pretty seriously.”

And also:
“There was a time when we were at practice and we were practicing and we look over to the door and Shaq was there in his police uniform. And we were all like 'Who’s that?' 'What’s a police officer doing here?' And then we realized it was Shaq just playing a joke on us.”

Do you have a favorite player on the team?
“I would have to say Derek Fisher is my favorite player. Even before the 0.4, Derek was my favorite player. I just feel like he plays with a lot of heart.”