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As Bad as It Gets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Speaking of blatant kicks . . .

The Lakers got their chance at Karl Malone and his well-publicized right foot Saturday afternoon, only to have him keep it holstered and instead unleash a far worse fate, all the body parts of the Utah Jazz.

It was like two hours 27 minutes of pacing back and forth in front of the Rockettes.

By the time Game 1 of the Western Conference finals had ended, early in the second quarter, the Jazz was well on its way to a 112-77 victory before 19,911 at the Delta Center.

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The beating came with complete documentation: the worst loss in the 422-game Los Angeles Laker playoff history, the worst shooting display and the fewest baskets made in the regular season or playoffs in the 3,524 games in the Los Angeles era, perhaps saved from the indignity of becoming franchise records because such numbers are not available from the Minneapolis days.

“It’s embarrassing to have to explain it,” Rick Fox said. “I know some family members of mine who are going to be embarrassed having to explain it too.”

At least the Lakers don’t have to worry about explaining it to their bosses, which may also be a bad thing. Jerry Buss watched from one row behind the bench. Mitch Kupchak watched from across from the bench. Magic Johnson watched from the opposite baseline. Jerry West presumably watched on TV, at least before he put his foot through it.

“It’s an embarrassing loss,” said Kupchak, the general manager.

The Lakers missed 11 of their first 12 attempts, 15 of their first 18 and were at 19% (four of 21) after the opening quarter. They shot 33.3% (five of 15) in the second period, while the Jazz came out with a 16-2 charge worth a 40-15 lead. The halftime total was 25% (nine of 36), with Shaquille O’Neal at one of six with six turnovers, en route to a dreadful performance.

“Horrible,” Nick Van Exel said of the start. “It’s like you’re out there and there’s nothing you can do. You’re helpless. You feel like you and Shaq are fighting in an elevator. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.”

The Lakers jumped to 57.1% in the third quarter, and rallied to within 19 points. Just to ensure that there would not be a single positive thing to come out of the day, they erased that by going two of 21--two of 21!--in the final period, or 9.5%.

Final damage report: 23 of 78, 29.5%. Still far off the all-time NBA postseason mark of 23.3%, set by the Golden State Warriors against the Lakers in the 1973 conference finals, and two away from the fewest baskets in a game, done by four teams, but far enough down. This came after they shot 51.7% versus Seattle, the Lakers’ highest percentage in a playoff series since the 1990 first round against Houston.

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Van Exel was one of nine.

Kobe Bryant was four of 14.

Eddie Jones was two of six.

The end of the bench finally got the chance to play and contributed, Jon Barry, Sean Rooks and Mario Bennett going 0 for 11 in garbage time in the fourth quarter.

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O’Neal was six of 16, with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven turnovers. The polite explanation was that he looked rushed trying to get to the basket in the first half upon realizing that the Jazz, unlike the previous two playoff opponents, was not going to consistently swarm him with a second defender. The more accurate one might be that he looked absolutely out of it early.

“It’s a different timing than we’ve seen for him in a long time,” Coach Del Harris said after losing for the third time in 10 playoff games this year. “He didn’t adjust real well. Utah did a great job.”

Added point guard Derek Fisher: “Because we couldn’t get him into a rhythm, our team never got into a rhythm.”

Utah, meanwhile, flourished despite the one point and four turnovers from Jeff Hornacek and the 17 turnovers in all, five more than normal during the playoffs. Malone finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds--and no sign of any kicks--but the greater impact came from the bench, with 14 points and nine assists from Howard Eisley, 10 points and 11 rebounds from Shandon Anderson and 10 points each from Antoine Carr and Chris Morris.

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Greg Foster, the starting center, contributed 10 points and five rebounds, and a message aimed at civility, hoping to get out of the spotlight as a Laker lightning rod after his throat-cutting gesture the last time the teams played here. After driving down the lane for a two-hand dunk near the Laker bench after the outcome had been decided--the same move at the same basket in the same situation as March 28--he merely put an index finger over his mouth, pantomiming “Shhhh.”

And there was the other message, delivered by all the Jazz.

“We’re not,” Fox said of his Lakers, “as good as we think.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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GAME 1 BY THE NUMBERS

35: Margin of defeat, the worst playoff loss in Laker history.

29.5: Lakers’ field-goal shooting percentage (23 for 77), their worst in playoff history.

17.4: Lakers’ three-point percentage (4 for 23)

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6 to 5: Shaquille O’Neal’s turnovers to points in the first half.

9: Laker field goals in first half out of 36 attempts (25 percent)

53-27: Utah’s bench outscored the Lakers’ by 26.

63-56: Utah’s rebounding advantage.

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