Last night at the Energy Solutions Arena in Utah, the Lakers were the ones left wondering what had gone wrong, losing to the Jazz 113-109. Utah is a team that has continued to be a thorn in the Lakers side. Coach Jerry Sloan understands the determination it takes to defeat their Western Conference foes and over the years, has had measurable success in doing so. And it always appears to happen when the Jazz are short-handed, whom were without Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko. Deron Williams led the way with 31 points and 11 assists, follwed by Memet Okur with 22 and 8 boards. Memet Okur!?! Pau Gasol was outplayed by his Utah counterpart and he looked fatigued with his constant pained expressions towards the officials. He was a step slower, complained often, and never got into the kind of groove that he has enjoyed all season. But the Lakers were able to endure for most of the night and even tied the score at 107-107. Unfortunately, Okur hit a key three on the next play that proved to be the dagger in the Lakers heart. The Lakers had an off night in the fourth quarter, connecting on only 28.6% of their shots, yet the Jazz gave them hope by clanging their free throws, missing 9 of 15 in the later parts of the game. A Fisher missed three followed by a loose ball scramble and another miss by Fisher culminated the night. Kobe finished with 37 points on a poor shooting night of 14 for 33, Lamar Odom continued his increased production with 19 points and a season high 19 rebounds. But it was Gasol who appeared lackluster with only 16 points and 4 rebounds, well below his averages since Andrew Bynum went down.
For one night, there were no miracles or pulling rabbits out of a hat. Utah displayed more hustle and grit throughout the game and this was apparent when it counted the most. For their efforts, the Utah Jazz moved into 8th place in the Western Conference standings, bypassing the Phoenix Suns. The Lakers continue to post the league’s best record at 42-10. Laker fans may be disappointed with the loss, but this hardly measures as a call for alarm. Going into the All-Star break, it is evident that the team can use some much needed down time and rest. But for Bryant and Gasol, it’s back to work on Friday, when they fly out to Phoenix for the weekend’s activities, full of media sessions, photo ops, and finally the All-Star game itself on Sunday. The Lakers go back to work on Tuesday against Atlanta at the Staples Center.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Utar, as pronounced by Karl Malone, remains a team that Laker fans have learned to hate. It could be their hard hat mentality which emanates from the top down with head coach Jerry Sloan to hired henchmen such as Malone, Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Antoine Carr, Greg Ostertag, John Stockton (yes, the little cute guy with the short-shorts) to today’s squad with Boozer, Kirilenko and Matt Harpring. Or it could be from the amount of success that they’ve had against the Lakers during the Del Harris-led days of Shaq and Kobe. Whatever the reason, the fouls always seem a little harder in Utah, the calls a little less accommodating, and the boos and hisses easier to come. But if championships were determined in one game, not only would the Utar Jazz be champs, but so would the Queens to the north and those Phoenix pixies in the desert. It is easier to overachieve for one game, but stretch this out over a seven game series and it’s lights out for the Jazz. Toast. Finito. Adios.