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Lakers 120, Jazz 91: Wire to Wire Ownage


Bad things happen to the Utah Jazz when they visit Staples Center. Like a kid getting dragged to the dentist, they know all too well that a trip to the Lakers' home floor entails a heavy dose of pain that they're more or less helpless to prevent. Utah hasn't beaten the Lake Show at Staples since 2006, which is a fairly astonishing streak when you consider that (a) the Jazz are a solid team year in, year out, (b) they've faced the Lakers in the playoffs numerous times, so they're getting plenty of cracks at the purple and gold, and (c) we're now in the year 2011. Tonight the streak reached a cool 17 games, and not for a moment did a different outcome seem plausible. The Lakers scored on their very first possession and at no point thereafter was the game even tied. When it all wrapped up, the final score read 120 to 91, and the Jazz were sent back to SLC having gone 0-5 on their gruesome January road trip.

If you matched these teams against each other at full strength, the Lakers would be favored. The Jazz, unfortunately for the Jazz, are not at anything close to full strength. I mean, they appear to be healthy enough, but on the final stop of a rough trip that began in the distant Northeast, they entered tonight's contest fatigued, demoralized and drained of all joie de vivre. In no shape were they to face a Lakers team that had been resting at home since Friday night. And to the Lakers' enormous credit, they showed zero mercy to their beleaguered guests, dropping a huge first quarter on Utah and never letting up.

For the night the champs scored 1.28 points per possession, making it one of their half-dozen or so most efficient outings of the season. All the key guys got theirs. Playing just 26 minutes, Kobe Bryant put up 21 points on 15 shots (including free-throw possessions), most of them coming from post-ups or midrange looks. Pau Gasol (20 points on 15 shots) played right over the top of Paul Millsap, while Andrew Bynum (19 points on 13 shots) went over, around and through Al Jefferson. Lamar Odom (17 points on eight shots, along with four assists and eight rebounds) was nearly perfect in his 22 minutes of floor time.

These four bros powered the Lakers to a huge early lead. The cushion reached 17 in the first quarter, 28 at halftime and 33 late in the third. Utah never made a run that was even mildly threatening. That the game got out of reach early meant plenty of garbagio time for the scrubs, who did some nice things of their own. Luke Walton made all four of his shots (seriously?), Devin Ebanks buried a step-back three, and Derrick Caracter flashed some aggressive D at the rim. Top grades all around!

As a team the Lakers made 68% of their twos and 44% of their threes - easily their best shooting night of the season. They also did a great job of getting to the free-throw line, a direct result of their relentlessness in attacking Utah's sluggish team D. The Lakers were just faster to every spot on the floor, which forced the Jazz to clutch and grab all night long.

A few individual defensive performances stand out for our boys. Ron Artest had his second straight game of excellent perimeter D. He notched three steals in only 25 minutes and generally wreaked havoc on Utah's ball-handling and passing angles. Bynum as well made himself heard on the defensive end. At this point, he looks like he's once again game-fit, moving at full speed and leaping quickly from the floor to challenge opponents who get near the rim.

As for the Jazz, what can you say? They just didn't want to be there. They had the look of a team fully aware of the beating they were about to receive. Deron Williams, their best player and spiritual engine, had a poor night. His final stats - 17 points and eight assists - look fine, but most of those numbers came in the second half, when the outcome was long since decided. In the first half he shot 2-for-7 and committed three turnovers. Many of his passes were directly into traffic or otherwise ill considered. The Jazz will recover eventually, but for now they're a team adrift.

The Lakers are 33-13 and have won seven straight home games. (The loss to the Clippers was technically on the road, so let's just go with "seven straight.") They now have a couple days off before hosting the Kings on Friday night, and then the holy war against the Celtics resumes on Sunday. If the Lakers play like they did tonight, everyone - including the mighty Celts - should be very afraid.











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