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Tonight the Lakers played their best defensive game in over a month. Not since beating Denver on February 28th had they held a good offensive team to less than a point per possession (PPP). Tonight at Staples, they held a Utah Jazz squad that's sixth in the NBA in offensive efficiency to a paltry 0.98 PPP. Turnovers were forced, fouls were committed only rarely, shots were contested, and Utah misses found their way to Laker mitts. The reward is a 106 to 92 victory and a nice beginning to the team's post-road trip rehab.

The heroes this evening were Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and, however improbably, Derek Fisher. Lamar was brilliant from beginning to end. In the first quarter, he made all five of his field-goal attempts for 11 points to power the Lakers to a 17-point lead. The Jazz, behind a huge second quarter from Deron Williams and a third period in which the Lakers went incredibly cold, sliced away at the deficit until, early in the fourth, they trailed by only four. At that point Lamar, on consecutive Laker possessions, hit a three and converted an "and one" layup, taking the air out of the Jazz comeback. His final numbers were sensational: 26 points on 90% True Shooting, with 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and only one turnover. When Odom is on like this, there's no Laker who's more fun to watch.

Gasol had the type of game he should always have against a short frontline. He dominated the defensive glass and is the main reason Utah recovered only a fifth of its missed shots. He bothered both Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap with his length. He got to the line for 10 free throw attempts, and he showed once again that he can be the best passing big man in the world, dishing out nine assists. It feels like it's been a while since we've seen Pau carve up a defense with his deft interior passing.

As for Fish, this was the best game I've seen him play all year. None of his seven field-goal attempts were bad shots. None were those infuriating two-point shots just inside the arc with 19 left on the shot clock. He waited for good looks, and he connected, ringing up 14 points on 89% True Shooting. Just as surprising, he was actually pretty decent on D. He had moments where Williams made him look bad, but that's to be expected. He also had moments in which he hassled Williams away from his preferred spots, not to mention a great stretch at the beginning of the second half, when Utah's first four possessions went like this:

Jazz Possession

Result

1

Fish forces Williams to fumble ball out of bounds

2

Boozer makes jump shot

3

Fish forces tie-up with C.J. Miles; Lakers win jump ball

4

Fish saves basket by blocking Boozer layup

That's an excellent night's work, old man. You're off my shitlist until Sunday.

Even the Laker bench came through tonight! I know, right? Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown hit three-point shots in the second quarter to help keep the Jazz at bay. Josh Powell played and wasn't a hideous catastrophe. Best of all, Sasha Vujacic was let out of The Hole long enough to score three points. The reserves capably held their own against the Jazz bench and ran out garbage time without mishap.

Kobe Bryant did not fare well in the first game after signing his contract extension. He shot a gruesome 5 for 23 from the field, though he did spruce up his efficiency somewhat by making 15 of 18 freebies. Also, he struggled trying to stay with Williams on a few possessions. Not a horrible sin, that, but on the whole, it's not a night Mr. Bryant will look back on all that fondly, except when checking balances in his brokerage accounts.

The Lakers are now 55-21 and have but six games left until the playoffs. Home court in the Western Conference is nearly sewn up, and with the Magic losing tonight, the Lakers are two full games up on Orlando. (Also, they've now played exactly as many games at Staples as on the road.) Next up are the Spurs in the Easter matinee.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

Utah

94

15

0.25

57

0.18

47

27

47

49

20

78

0.98

L.A.

93

10

0.46

78

0.25

46

35

48

54

22

80

1.14

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