LOS ANGELES CA - JANUARY 25: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket while being defended by Raja Bell #19 of the Utah Jazz in the second half at Staples Center on January 25 2011 in Los Angeles California. The Lakers defeated the Jazz 120-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and or using this photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
In an 82-game regular season, much debate exists about the length of the season causing unnecessary injuries and the like, but one factor that gets overlooked by most (except fans of your Los Angeles Lakers) is malaise. Teams get bored, teams get unhappy. Teams just don't want to play. This generally occurs with bottom-rung teams that are sick of losing, but also occurs with veteran playoff squads that often view the regular season as totally meaningless. Utah is neither of these, they are a moderate playoff contender in the West, but recently, with a horrific skid involving losing three games by double-digits to sub-500 teams, Utah has been playing like a bottom-feeder. As such, Utah did not want to play in that game last night. It's that simple.
Maybe the first two minutes or so they actually tried to win the game, but when the Lakers ended the first quarter with a double-digit lead, it was obvious the Jazz wanted no part of this game. Granted, the Jazz have a reputation as a 'comeback' team, and the Lakers have a reputation for needlessly letting up leads, but the Jazz's body language gave off the visible aura of a team beat.
The Jazz did not necessarily roll over and die like the Cavaliers did when they got 55'ed, and in fact showed some (pointless) bite, earning several technicals in the process, but there was not one point in the game where they looked capable, or even willing, to try to make a run. This was not a result of anything 'special' executed by the Lakers this particular game (though losing 16 straight on the road versus the Lakers, including playoff embarassments, certainly helped), but simply a result of the basic formula of facing a team feeling and playing down, stomping on them early and watching them give up.
Simultaneously, one must give credit to the Lakers for never letting up, and maintaining the lead above 30 until the waning minutes of the fourth, when a plethora of turnovers from the purple and gold third-stringers allowed the Jazz to make the score appear as that of a standard blowout, as opposed to sheer annihilation.
Player of the Game honours go to Andrew Bynum for his excellent rim-protection and hyper-efficient outing, 19 points on just 9 shots, with 11 rebounds to garnish his statline. I've stopped even bothering taking a glance at Drew's block numbers, for the simple fact that he alters at least three times as many shots as he blocks, with such effectiveness that they may as well BE blocks. Perhaps most heartening about Andrew's game was his lack of fouls, with foul trouble being an understated issue for him in several games past (though it is for virtually any true big, due to the nature of the rules in the modern NBA).
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol both had efficient outings, with Kobe now 13 short of passing Hakeem Olajuwon for the number eight spot on the all-time scoring List, a number Kobe, barring injury, is certain to pass on Friday versus the Sacramento Kings. Even Derek Fisher had a good night, scoring eight points on three shots. The bench played solidly but unspectacular, with a consistent performance by Lamar, mediocre one by Shannon, and excellent one by Luke. Nice to see was increased activity from Steve Blake, though it didn't entirely translate to the stat sheet.
Quietly, the Lakers have won 12 of the 15 games since Andrew Bynum entered the starting lineup, with two of the three losses being entirely understandable (a loss against a surging Clippers team that also beat several other contenders during that period, and a loss against a Dallas team that after its most embarrassing (regular season) stretch of basketball in the Dirk Nowitzki era were due for a breakout game), making them one of the hottest teams during that stretch.
In this period, the Lakers have only allowed their opponent to score over 100 three times (the Dallas and Memphis losses, and the defenseless Golden State game), meanwhile having only scored fewer than 100 three times themselves (the Clipper and Grizzly losses as well as the Phoenix win). Their pace has been quite slow since Bynum's return, with the exception of last game (where the higher pace did seem to actually work well), and this seems to have aided them in fixing their turnover issues.
The Lakers' schedule, as we've previously mentioned, is rapidly transforming from cupcake to hellhole, and it seems the Lakers are ready to step to the challenge. I could very well be wrong, though.... these are the Lakers, after all.
Highlights from last night's game: