Jazz: Even 'flat' Lakers too much for Utah
The streaking Los Angeles Lakers came to Utah and played the lottery-bound Jazz just 22 hours after an emotional, statement-making victory against Dallas.
Although the Lakers prevailed, 96-85, they were flat and struggled Friday night against the Jazz.
Utah built a 41-24 lead in the second quarter before Los Angeles closed with a 10-0 run to make it 48-42 at halftime.
The Lakers were fortunate to be so close, however, after shooting 38.4 percent.
Coach Phil Jackson called his team's first half "a stinker."
Pau Gasol said, "Obviously, we came out really flat."
Kobe Bryant agreed.
"They had so many points in the paint in the first half," he said. "But we did a much better job in the second half of making them stay on the perimeter."
In the third quarter, the Lakers closed with an 18-4 run to take control.
"They were playing with more energy," Gasol said. "They were better than we were. But we picked it up. We acted at the right time."
The Lakers eventually built an 83-65 lead with 8:44 remaining and cruised to their 17th win in 18 games since the All-Star break.
"We started playing defense, they turned the ball over a few times and that changed the game," Jackson said.
The Lakers' ability to set the tempo and play in the half court also fed into their second-half domination.
"We really wanted to slow the game down," Jackson said. "They were very good in transition early on, and we weren't ready to get back on defense and that cost us."
Combined with San Antonio's 119-114 overtime loss at Houston, the Lakers' ninth straight win moved them within 1 1/2 games of the Spurs in the race for the best record in the Western Conference.
San Antonio has six games remaining.
The Lakers have seven.
"They are important [games]," Bryant said. "We want to win each one. We're playing really well."
The Lakers played without forward Matt Barnes, who was suspended after a fourth-quarter altercation with Jason Terry in Thursday night's 110-82 victory against Dallas.
Unapologetic after the game, Barnes told the Los Angeles Times, "They're not going to come into our house and throw us around."
The Lakers didn't play with a nasty attitude in the first half against Utah, but they were still good enough to hand the Jazz a defeat which eliminated them from the playoffs.