A victory full of value

Times Staff Writer

Just another night at Staples Center, where the Lakers ran over another playoff opponent, continued to march further into May, and celebrated the eighth MVP award in team history.

The Lakers won for the sixth time in as many playoff games with a 120-110 victory Wednesday over the Utah Jazz, a night in which Lakers fans were exuberant from beginning to end as the newest most valuable player played like one.

Indeed, the season-long chants for Kobe Bryant had an added legitimacy after he was handed the MVP trophy by NBA Commissioner David Stern in a pregame ceremony.

Stern said a few quick words, ending with, "As it is said, there can only be one [MVP], and that one is Kobe Bryant."

Bryant followed it up with 34 points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Lakers took a 2-0 lead over the Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals.

"It was an emotional night for all of us," Bryant said. "What we tried to do is ride that momentum. It was special tonight. I haven't seen Staples Center this electric. I had goose bumps running out."

Lamar Odom was active from the start -- 19 points, 16 rebounds -- and Derek Fisher continued to pester his old teammates, scoring 22 points on seven-for-10 shooting.

Historically, teams that fall behind 2-0 have only a 6.2% chance of winning a best-of-seven NBA series.

In the final seconds, there were even a few chants of "sweep, sweep," although the Jazz might have something to say about that as the series shifts to Utah. Game 3 is Friday.

The Lakers improved their rebounding, losing the category by a more respectable 41-37 margin after getting overwhelmed in the category by the Jazz in Game 1. They also didn't seem too perturbed by Utah's propensity to foul. The Jazz had 30 fouls, the Lakers only 20, though many of Utah's came in the final minutes in an effort to conserve time by sending the Lakers to the foul line.

The same home crowd that booed Bryant on opening night in October cheered him again and again, wearing free T-shirts that said "Our Team, Our Time, Our MVP."

Bryant spoke briefly during the pregame ceremony, saying his 12 seasons with the Lakers had been memorable.

"We've still got many more years to go," he said, before speaking about the near future. "We're going to play until June. Let's get this party started."

It started pretty quickly, the Lakers taking a 33-18 lead after the first quarter. The Jazz lingered from there, never threatening but never quite going away, and closed to within 99-94 on two free throws by Carlos Boozer with 5:58.

Sasha Vujacic made a 21-footer, Fisher added a three-pointer, the lead swelled to 10, and that was pretty much that.

Bryant punctuated the night by spinning in the lane and feeding Pau Gasol for a dunk with 2:40 to play.

The Lakers now head to Utah, where the Jazz had the best home record during the regular season (37-4), although the Lakers did well there in a March 20 game.

Playing without Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers won, 106-95, ending a 19-game home win streak by the Jazz that had tied a franchise record. The Lakers led by 24 in the second quarter and rode a 21-point, 12-rebound, six-assist effort by Odom.

On Wednesday, the Lakers made 35 of 43 free throws, Bryant making 11 of 12. In the series, the Lakers have taken 89 free throws.

"That's way too many if you're going to have a chance to play with them," Utah Coach Jerry Sloan said, dismayed that the Jazz can't seem to stop fouling the Lakers.

There were other problems for the visitors.

Boozer has struggled in the playoffs, falling from regular-season stats of 21.1 points a game and 54.7% shooting to playoff numbers of 15.9 points a game and 42.9% shooting before Wednesday.

Game 2 was no different: Boozer was continually in foul trouble and finished with 10 points on three-for-10 shooting in 24 minutes.



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