So the Utah Jazz will head back to Los Angeles in a few days for the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs.
L.A. made sure of that with an impressive final performance en route to its 65th regular season win. Utah’s head coach Jerry Sloan, for one, wasn’t too excited about that prospect.
“Well we didn’t give much of a battle and knowing that we’re going to have to play them again, it looks pretty bleak,” he said. “Hate to say that but it’s one of those things.”
Heading into its finale, L.A. surely knew the potential playoff scenarios: Beat the Jazz, and you see ‘em in the first round. Lose, and New Orleans or Dallas could be the first round opponent if either team lost its final game on Wednesday. Bringing a full effort in a still-meaningless game position wise wasn’t going to be the easiest thing in the world, particularly with a Jazz team pushing its pedal to the floor in hopes of avoiding a return to STAPLES, but after Deron Williams got aggressive in the third quarter, the Lakers almost couldn’t help themselves.
How’d it happen? Well, L.A. looked pretty peaceful in the first half, managing to hold a one-point lead despite Utah’s 29 trips to the foul line, and quickly pushing the lead to eight early in the third quarter. Then an 8-0 Williams-inspired run tied the game at 68 with 5:42 remaining, capped by some trash talking heading into a timeout.
That, essentially, awoke the beast.
The Lakers started firing from all cylinders until the lead eventually swelled to 19 early in the fourth when Kobe Bryant and Sasha Vujacic hit back-to-back triples, the latter of which gave L.A. a 104-85 lead, and stuffed some tissue in Utah’s saxophone.
It was a team victory in the truest sense, as every Laker scored at least a bucket while five players hit double figures, including Sasha Vujacic and Lamar Odom off a bench that combined for 53 points.
Andrew Bynum had his best game in his four back from injury, playing 30 minutes and putting up 22 points with four boards and three assists; Pau Gasol went for 20 points, nine boards and six assists while Kobe Bryant settled for 16 points and five dimes in 26 minutes.
“It feels great, I feel well-rested,” said Bynum. “I am very, very, very excited. I have never played in an NBA playoff game, well I played in Phoenix for a minute but that doesn’t really count. I think I have a great chance to help push us over the hump.”
Of course, what’s most interesting is how much different the matchup with Utah will look in less than a week when L.A.’s real season commences.
Until then, a few digits:
Lakers point guards who hit a three pointer in the game.
Points scored by Andrew Bynum on 8-of-13 shooting with 6-of-7 free throws, plus four boards and three dimes. Surely the Lakers have to be happy with how good ‘Drew’s looked in his first four games out of the knee injury.
Free throw attempts averaged per game by the Jazz.
Free throws attempted by the Jazz in the first half, a season high, as the Lakers were often a step slow on defense and at times were forced to resort to reaching.
Season high assists tossed by the Lakers.
L.A.’s shooting percentage in an offensively efficient first half in which Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting.
Bench points for the Lakers, led by Lamar Odom’s 16 and Sasha Vujacic’s 15.
Regular season wins for the Lakers in the 2008-09 season.