Nine wins in a row – finally! After two 8-game winning streaks, the Lakers finally broke free and snatched that ninth one from a Utah Jazz team who is still clearly trying to maneuver their way through this tumultuous season. With the nearly simultaneous exits of longtime coach, Jerry Sloan, and All-Star floor leader, Deron Williams, the Jazz have now gone 5-17 and, with this loss, can officially wave the white flag at their playoff hopes.
They had the Lakers on their heels tonight too, going up by as much as 17 points in the second quarter. C.J. Miles had 11 first quarter points and he finished with 24 on 8-16. Krylo Fresenko, starting at center, was rough-‘n-tumble with Andrew Bynum, allowing only 2 points and a single rebound for the Lakers center in 16 first-half minutes and Al Jefferson (17 points on 7-18, 10 rebounds, 5 assists) dominated Pau Gasol’s defensive efforts. The Jazz, for the game, actually outrebounded the Lakers 44-39, and with a small lead going into the second half, could have extended their advantage. Unfortunately, they were met with a very much awake Lakers team.
The third quarter, or the second half as a whole, was played by a completely different team. With a small hump to overcome, the Lakers chipped away at the lead by cranking up their defensive pressure and moving the ball to create better scoring opportunities.
A couple of threes from Derek Fisher, another by Ron Artest, a long two by Kobe Bryant, a dunk followed by a hook shot by Andrew Bynum, and suddenly the score was even. That was the beginning of the end for Utah.
Kobe Bryant led the way with 21 points on 6-14, adding in five rebounds and four assists. His trusted backcourt confidante, Derek Fisher, had a productive offensive game, chipping in 15 points on 4-6 (2-3 from 3PT) and hitting all five of his free throws.
The Laker bigs took awhile to warm up, but eventually Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum got it going, combining for 27 points on 10-17, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks. Fresenko and Jefferson may have had their numbers in the first 24 minutes, but the second half belonged to Gasol and Bynum.
The Laker bench, who did very little in the first half, found their way in the third quarter, helping the team turn the deficit into a lead of their own. Lamar Odom, battling a stomach virus, led the reserves with 16 points on 6-13, hitting 2-3 from beyond the arc and scoring on various drive-in finger rolls and layups, not to mention collecting seven rebounds.
Steve Blake, shaking off last night’s incident, found teammates all over the floor – Gasol for a lob and dunk; slipping a pass to Andrew Bynum by the rim, then Lamar Odom for a deep three to end the third quarter. And in one spectacular sequence, caught a defensive rebound, passed it around his back to gather himself, and then stopped to score on a pull-up jumper on the other end. Even Luke Walton got in the mix, tossing a lob to Shannon Brown, who dunked it in to give the Lakers a 16-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
The Lakers held the Jazz to just 37 points in the second half on 40% shooting, while they scored 54 points on 55% from field. They also forced 14 Jazz turnovers while committing just nine of their own. They got to the line 30 times, but missed nine freebies – something to work on before the post-season.
The Lakers are now 17-1 since the All-Star break, and with the San Antonio Spurs losing their sixth game in a row, move just 1 ½ games from first place in the Western Conference. Many have analyzed and believe that the Lakers may be better off sitting in the second seed and avoiding a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder. But any wise observer of this team should realize that when it comes to playoff opponents, the Lakers don’t need to show a preference. Whoever stands between this team and their threepeat is in for a hard-fought series, no matter what uniforms they’re wearing.
Pre-game Thoughts: A game against the Jazz without Jerry Sloan leading the way? It’ll be more than odd. It’ll be downright weird. Despite Utah’s losing streak however, this is the 2nd night of a back to back for Lakers and the Jazz may just try to take advantage of that. Without the services of Matt Barnes (suspended for last night’s “events”) and Lamar Odom battling a stomach virus, the Laker bench needs to dig deep and produce out there.
Half-time Thoughts: 42-48 –The Lakers might’ve used up all their intensity for the week in last night’s game because they’re playing with very little energy and purpose against this depleted, rebuilding Jazz team. The Lakers fell behind by as much as 17 points, but went on a 10-0 run to end the half and get within six. Kobe Bryant leads the game with 13 points on 4-7, but the Lakers need more than offensive production to end this game with a win. There is glasswork to be done, where Utah is beating them 28-18. Andrew Bynum has a single rebound and two points from two free throws in 16 min of play, making Krylo Fresenko look like a defensive stopper that he is not. The Lakers need more than just ball movement to get them going in this game. They need to lock in on defense and guard the paint where Utah is killing them 30-10.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lakers – First half version. Even despite a late run before the break, the team looked absolutely listless and disinterested in every aspect. No one was rebounding, ball movement was stagnant and the energy just wasn’t there.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lamar Odom – stomach virus be damned, the Sixth Man of the Year candidate refused, as he often does, to provide any excuses for a subpar performance. So he buckled down and played, and this win would have been a lot more difficult to attain had Odom not exerted the effort that he has provided all-season long.