But before we get to that, let’s take a look back at what has transpired since that chippy game against Dallas last Thursday.
Speaking of the Jazz, the Lakers let the Jazz hang around last Friday, until the second half when they decided enough was enough.
Final? 96-85 Lakers.
The Jazz played tough for the first half and I'm not being patronizing when I say that; they really gave it their all. But in the end, the Lakers just wore them down with a combination of superior talent, more healthy bodies and more clutch experience.
The Jazz have lived through a season of upheaval. They have nothing to be ashamed of. They are very young and the future looks promising, but they just couldn't handle the Lakers on Friday.
They were out of sorts, out of rhythm and sloppy from the get go. Phil Jackson remarked in the postgame press conference that he thought it was because it was an early start.
I think he was just calling out his team. They all looked like they'd just polished off a big plate of huevos rancheros and then decided to play.
Sluggish, ragged and out of focus, this reminded me a lot of the loss to the Heat. The other team was seriously motivated (in this case, Denver, it secured itself a playoff spot with the win) and the Lakers just couldn't ramp it up.
Terrible shooting, but far worse were the 20 turnovers—20? Of course you're going to lose if that is your definition of ball security.
Was it just me or were there a ton of ill-advised passes into the post that the Nuggets easily deflected?
Also, that was a ridiculous technical on Kobe. Come on refs.
Anyway, going undefeated the rest of the way was never a good goal, no matter how much the media loved the idea.
Instead, get back to fundamentals. You're smarter than that Lakers—I'm giving you a pass here. Regroup and try it again against Utah at Staples.
Which brings us to Tuesday night against the Jazz—a team the Lakers had easily beaten four days earlier. Maybe it was payback for the Lakers eliminating them from the postseason on Friday night, but it was like two completely different teams showed up.
So what happened against Utah this time? A couple of things.
Again, there were too many turnovers. When I said after the Denver game to cut down on the turnovers, I did not mean going from 20 to 19.
And, yes, I'm looking at you Mamba—SEVEN turnovers? The thing about Kobe is when he blows it, you don't even need to tell him because he is his own harshest critic. Trust me.
That shot of him looking at his hands when he lost the handle as the clock expired will be all over the media today. He lost the handle, but he didn't lose the game.
The whole Lakers squad was sluggish again in the first half.
We'll see what everybody else says, but here's what I saw and, in my opinion, it's a holdover from Denver on Sunday.
I don't want to say the Lakers are playing skittish, but they seem to be playing wary. Everybody (myself included) was very worried about the knee injuries Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum sustained in the Denver loss.
But what everyone seems to have overlooked is that Kobe took a major shot to his knee in the Jazz game Friday night. Bryant was writhing in pain on the floor.
He got up and walked it off, but that was very scary. Please Laker fans, don't take his toughness for granted.
So that said, I saw several instances in the last two losses where they just looked like they didn't want to sacrifice their bodies. I can't say I blame them.
One thing about the Lakers is that they understand how to win championships. Heading into the playoffs with everyone healthy is much more important than the seedings as they stand now.
Andrew Bynum, however, had a terrific game with a career-high 23 rebounds. He was definitely a highlight last night.
And, as long as we're giving credit, congrats to Gordon Hayward. A year ago, he was losing the national championship while he was at Butler.
Now? Beating the Lakers on their home court. Nice way to close out the season for the rook.
By the way Gordon, a word of advice. Watch out for the next time the Jazz play the Lakers. Mamba has a long memory—ask the Celtics.
Lakers, let's get back to smart, defense-oriented basketball. And don't listen to the sheep in the media who say that the Spurs game is a big deal. It's not.
The Spurs are going to get the No. 1 seed. Do not injure yourselves trying to beat them in what will surely be a grudge match on their part and will do nothing to improve your seeding.
I'm okay with 4-1 or even 3-2 the rest of the way. Continue to give the bench more minutes (I love how up-tempo Steve Blake has been coming in off the bench lately).
You may not know for another few days who your first-round opponent is the way things are bouncing around in the No. 6 to No. 8 seeds.
Remember the plan? Smart, defense-oriented basketball—keep doing that.
Because everybody is 0-0 when the playoffs start.
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