Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Thursday evening road contest at Utah, the Lakers looking for their ninth straight win, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Jazz: E. Watson*, C.J. Miles, P. Millsap, A. Jefferson, K. Fesenko
*The depleted Jazz were missing starting point guard Devin Harris, acquired in the trade for Deron Williams, as well as Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Ronnie Price to injury.
5:22 A pumped up group of Jazz players came out in a prideful manner, knowing that one more loss officially eliminated them from playoff contention and with so many teammates on the shelf, building an 18-11 lead before Bynum missed two free throws. The Lakers, who arrived at about 2:30 a.m. the night before after beating up on Dallas at home, skipped shootaround in order to sleep and looked to be just trying to stem the early tide.
1:27 The Jazz started with energy, then brought some youthful exuberance off the bench with rookies Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, the No. 3 overall pick converting a jumper to put the Jazz up 28-18.
0:00 Yet Fisher had scored five straight points before Favors connected, and Gasol and Odom combined for four points to close the quarter on a 9-2 run, cutting Utah’s lead to six at 28-22. To use the tired boxing cliche (wait, why use it after making fun of it?), the Lakers had essentially taken the first punch and stood up just fine.
9:45 Or not. Instead of building on that momentum, L.A. regressed, allowing a 7-0 Jazz run to start the second, creating a 13-point hole. Hayward and Favors combined for five of those points, and the Lakers weren’t executing at all on offense, hitting only eight of their first 24 shots. Here’s a game where the extra energy boost Matt Barnes always provides could help, but he was of course suspended for “escalating” the fourth quarter, uh, situation with Dallas.
5:31 The lead was 15 halfway through the quarter, with several tweets coming into our @LakersReporter account wondering what was wrong (!!!!!). But being down in the first half of a game at Utah wasn’t a situation that was going to rattle the Lakers, who’d been around the block once or twice. Phil Jackson gave Bryant extra rest in the second despite the deficit, knowing he’d really need the legs in the second half. That said, getting zero collective points from subs Brown, Blake and Walton in 22 total minutes didn’t help.
2:05 With Utah somehow outscoring the Lakers 30-8 in the paint, the Lakers were at least getting to the foul line, with four straight from the line (12-of-17 total with four misses from Bynum) plus Fisher’s jumper getting L.A. to within 10. Then four more points, all from Bryant (13 points to lead all scorers), capped a 10-0 run. The Lakers showed what they can do when simply turning up the defensive intensity, holding the Jazz to just one field goal in the final four minutes and creating 10 straight misses.
11:40 Anyone know how to say “Big Tree” in Ukrainian? Fesenko wrapped up Bryant pretty good, forcing Kobe to walk it off for a good 10 seconds before taking two more free throws, returning to the place at which he’s spent a ton of time in recent games. L.A.’s past four wins, in fact, have seen Bryant go to the line an average of 12.75 times per game. He’d need six more attempts to surpass that mark.
9:01 Felled yet again by the Ukrainian tree, this time with a knee-on-knee collision to Bryant’s right knee … of course, Bryant just shook it off as the Lakers took a time out for him to walk around. Rumor has it he’s been able to play through pain once or twice in his career. L.A., meanwhile, would cut Utah’s lead in half with an Artest triple out of the break (54-51).
Wait … more Ukrainian Tree action?? Kobe, apparently loving going at the huge center, took more hard contact while attempting to jump over him at the rim; Fesenko got hit with the PF, plus a technical either for flipping the ball in Bryant’s direction after it came off the rim.
1:00 The Lakers of 16-1 since the All-Star break returned for the third quarter, shutting down Utah’s offense and moving the ball with ease at the other end, going up four points at 68-64 on Blake’s pretty alley-oop pass to a sprinting Spaniard. Since that four-minute mark of the second, L.A. had outscored Utah 36-16 to take control of the game.
8:44 It didn’t stop there, L.A. running out to a 12-1 burst to start the fourth, pushing its lead all the way to 18 points at 83-65. The group of Blake, Brown, Walton, Odom and Bynum was getting steals, creating open layups, blocking shots, nailing threes and whatever else. Odom actually nearly copied his three-point shooting feat from Dallas the night before, dropping long ones to close the third and open the fourth (he’d hit three around the quarters for a personal 9-0 run to help put the Mavs away).
6:00 The Jazz hadn’t given up, however, prompting Jackson to put his starters back in with six minutes to go, looking to push L.A. to its first 9-game winning streak of the season. Responding immediately were Artest and Bryant, with respective fadeaway and three-point jumpers to push the lead to 17.
0:00 Utah kept playing to the whistle, cutting L.A.’s lead down to 11 with a final hoop, but the damage had been done. That’s seventeen of 18 since the break, with the Spurs slumping in a big way in what should be a photo finish out West. Your numbers:
1.5 Games back of San Antonio after the Spurs lost a sixth straight game on Friday night, and the Lakers won a ninth straight. The Spurs looked to have things all but sewn up, but a look at their brutal schedule to close March (plus Tim Duncan’s ankle injury) left the door slightly ajar. Now, the door’s ready to be kicked down, with L.A. just one back in the loss column and an April 12th showdown looming.
9 Straight wins for the Lakers, their longest streak of the year. L.A. opened the season at 8-0 and won their first eight out of the All-Star break before falling to Miami, then starting the current streak two nights later in Dallas.
10 Straight Jazz misses forced by the Lakers to close the first half, allowing L.A. to go on a 10-0 run at the other end.
23 Margin between L.A. and Utah in a 39-16 run across the end of the second (10-0) and entire third quarter (29-16) that turned the game on its head. Then came an 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter, the game then essentially over.
30 Points in the paint for the Jazz in the first half to just 10 from the Lakers, their aggressiveness going to the rim allowing for an early lead. That changed markedly in the second half, when L.A. closed up its own lane and made some music in that of the Jazz.