Bryant says team is 'antsy'

Times Staff Writer

It took several days -- an eternity in the playoffs -- but the Lakers finally know the identity of their next opponent.

The Lakers will play the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Staples Center.

The Lakers will have gone six days between games but are presumably ready to go against someone other than themselves at practice.

"We've been antsy," Kobe Bryant acknowledged Friday afternoon, several hours before the Jazz eliminated Houston in the first round.

Utah is a physical, push-'em-around team that went 1-3 against the Lakers this season.

Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who was in charge of scouting the Jazz this season, said Utah's players were "bangers" and underscored Carlos Boozer's ability to consistently get 20 points and 10 rebounds, not to mention backup forward Paul Millsap's burly presence.

"I think they were second in the league as far as getting points in the paint," Hamblen said.

Said Bryant recently: "They're a physical bunch . . . they scratch, they claw. Denver was pretty physical too though, but we're used to playing that type of basketball."

The Jazz also has Deron Williams, who is "definitely a top-five point guard, maybe even higher," Hamblen said. "He's their igniter, makes them go," he said. "He's a guy that not only gets the other guys involved, but he can take the ball to the rim and he can knock in threes."

The Lakers managed to knock back Utah in an unusual game in March, winning at Salt Lake City, 106-95, despite playing without injured big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom was seemingly everywhere that night -- 21 points, 12 rebounds and six assists -- and the Lakers halted the Jazz's franchise record-tying 19 consecutive home victories.

The Lakers, however, were on the other end of a bizarre decision, posting an embarrassing 120-96 loss in November even though the Jazz played without Boozer and starting center Mehmet Okur. Williams had a career-high 35 points in that game, versatile forward Andrei Kirilenko had a triple-double, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said his team was as "soft as Dairy Queen ice cream."

The Lakers, however, fared well in their home games against Utah, collecting a 119-109 victory in November and a 123-109 victory in December.

Utah has one of the top home-court advantages in the NBA, going a league-best 37-4 during the regular season. Jazz fans were already anticipating the matchup against the Lakers, chanting "Beat L.A.!" in the final minutes of Friday's game against Houston.

The Jazz has a decent group of reserves, including sharp-shooter Kyle Korver.

"They're a deep team," Hamblen said. "They basically have a nine-man rotation that they use. They run their stuff very well, they set a lot of screens. You have to have really good interior defense with active hands because they are such good interior passers."

The Lakers, who got together to watch the Utah-Houston game at an undisclosed location, were definitely tired of talking about those two teams since eliminating Denver last Monday.

"It's boring to answer the same old questions over and over," Bryant said, smiling.


It sounds like remote just turned into extremely remote.

"I doubt there's going to be a comeback this year," Bynum said Friday. "I've got to get my knee straight. At this point, I'd have to train for a good month just to be able to go out there and play."

There are no plans for Bynum to begin practicing any time soon. If the Lakers eventually advance to the NBA Finals, the earliest start date will be June 3.

Bynum has been out since Jan. 13.




Lakers vs. Utah

Western Conf. semifinals.

Best-of-seven series:

Game 1-Sunday at Lakers, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 7

Game 2-Tuesday at Lakers, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Game 3-Friday at Utah, 6 p.m., ESPN

Game 4-May 11 at Utah, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 7

Game 5-May 14 at Lakers, TBD, TNT*

Game 6-May 16 at Utah, TBD, ESPN*

Game 7-May 19 at Lakers, TBD, TNT*

*if necessary

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