Lakers at loss for answers

Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY -- Pau Gasol couldn't stop watching the highlights, if that's the correct word, after the Lakers' Game 3 loss to Utah.

He watched turnover after turnover. Saw all the missed shots. Revisited the overall lack of composure that ended a string of 10 consecutive victories.

He finally relaxed enough to drift off to sleep at about 4 a.m., more than six hours after perhaps his least productive game with the Lakers.

"I don't take losses lightly, especially when I didn't do a good enough job," said Gasol, who had 12 points, six rebounds, five turnovers and one assist while continually playing the "Where's the call?" card with referees Friday in Game 3. "It was a long night."

The Lakers practiced Saturday in Utah, knowing today would bring Game 4 and a chance to enlarge a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.

Kobe Bryant reminded players on the bus ride to practice that Game 3 was just one loss, even if it seemed jarring because there hadn't been any in more than a month.

At the same time, he wasn't thrilled with what happened down the stretch. When asked by a reporter to give his insights on the game in Spanish, Bryant balked.

"I really can't, without cursing," he said, smiling.

Indeed, the Lakers would rather forget about Carlos Boozer breaking free from a slump by scoring 27 points and taking 20 rebounds. They'd also like to decrease their Game 3 turnovers (18) and increase their assists (14).

Furthermore, they also believe that Gasol's off night was a one-and-done thing.

Not that long ago, he had 36 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists in a playoff game against Denver.

"It's about him understanding what's happening, picking the ball up and hitting the open guy," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "They're leaving guys wide open. He's just got to get the basketball and put it in peoples' hands."

Jackson also said Gasol needed to watch his back, keeping track of blind-side defenders who kept poking the ball free.

The series is still young, but there's already a hint of coach vs. coach, not nearly in the same vein as Jackson vs. Mike D'Antoni earlier this season, but the Lakers' coach scoffed when told that Jerry Sloan suggested Bryant had been awarded too many free throws.

"He can't even open his mouth to speak about that the way Boozer pushes and shoves out there," Jackson said. "He got away with all his pushes [Friday] night, which he was getting called on in L.A."

Sloan told reporters Friday that Bryant has had "pretty much a free rein because it's a noncontact sport when you guard him."

Bryant is averaging 17.3 free throws a game in the series.

Free throws or no free throws, the Lakers will have to contend with the noise at EnergySolutions Arena, which was painfully obvious in Game 3.

Some of the Lakers' staffers wore earplugs behind the bench, and the players reported being fully aware of the decibel level.

"That's a lot of noise," Bryant said. "Your ears are pretty much ringing after the game."

Utah is playing a rare Sunday game, though the Jazz is expecting a full house despite the religious connotation of the day, as well as the fact that it's Mother's Day. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages members to avoid non-religious activities on Sundays.

One notable fan won't be in his courtside seat. Jazz owner Larry Miller told the Salt Lake Tribune that he wouldn't be at the game because it was on a Sunday.

Today marks Utah's first Sunday home game since January 2001.

"Hopefully the arena will be filled and not empty, though," Boozer said.


Sasha Vujacic has been bothered by a sprained big toe on his right foot, an injury he sustained in the fourth quarter of Game 2. He missed all three of his shots and played only 10 minutes in Game 3. "I was hoping it wouldn't be that bad, but I'll have to play through it," he said. . . . Jackson, on what was different for Boozer in Game 3: "I think we stayed out of his way most of the time."


Times staff writer Jonathan Abrams contributed to this report.

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