Pretty bleak, indeed.
The Utah Jazz’s chances, which stood somewhere between nonexistent and nonexistent, officially came to an end Monday at Staples Center.
It was a quick first-round series, mostly painless for the Lakers, and it concluded with a 107-96 victory that wasn’t without its worries for the home team.
Kobe Bryant had 31 points, Lamar Odom had 26 points and 15 rebounds, and the Lakers won the best-of-seven series, 4-1, but only after nearly losing another big lead in the fourth quarter.
They now get either Houston or Portland in the next round, and it’s pretty easy to determine whom they’d rather see even though they won’t come out and say it.
The Lakers were 2-2 against Portland this season, including two lopsided losses at the Rose Garden. They were 4-0 against Houston, winning by an average margin of 13 points.
Houston has a 3-1 lead over the Trail Blazers, with Game 5 tonight in Portland.
As for Monday’s game, the Lakers held a 22-point lead near the end of the third quarter, saw it slashed to six with 3:43 to play, and extended it quickly enough to move onward after all five starters came rushing back into the game.
On one hand, it’ll give Coach Phil Jackson something to harp on while the Lakers await their next opponent.
On the other hand, they didn’t have to worry about getting together today after Jackson canceled practice. And they might have another day off before the next round, depending on what happens in Portland tonight.
They’ll get their rest, that’s for sure.
“I think we played well offensively,” Jackson said of Monday’s game. “We had some real good games. I thought we played spotty defense tonight. We didn’t close the door. I told them in the locker room we have to improve as we go forward.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers became the 49th of 52 top-seeded teams to win in the first round since the 16-team playoff format was installed before the 1984 playoffs.
And, well, Jerry Sloan was right. Things turned out to be plenty bleak for the Jazz. Nor was his team nasty enough to stop the Lakers’ offense.
In fact, Sloan wasn’t around to see the finish after picking up two technical fouls in the final minutes.
The Lakers, who averaged 107 points a game in the series, appeared to be in end-it-now mode in the first half, taking a 56-43 lead on Bryant’s nine-foot turnaround with 7.1 seconds left in the second quarter.
Their third quarter wasn’t bad, either. On one play, Bryant regained his balance after running into referee Steve Javie, caught up to a long outlet pass and scored on a layup.
Bryant then made a three-pointer and found Pau Gasol for an alley-oop dunk for a 78-58 lead with 2:36 left in the third quarter.
But Utah wouldn’t go away.
Odom, Gasol and Trevor Ariza checked back into the game with 6:15 left after the Lakers’ lead was cut to 93-80. Bryant and Derek Fisher reentered the game a minute later, the lead down to 12.
Kyle Korver’s three-pointer brought the Jazz to within 95-89 with 3:43 to play, but Odom had two fastbreak dunks to help the Lakers extend the lead.
“During stretches we played really well, and then we had our stretches that we didn’t play so well,” Gasol said. “I think we have to play more consistent. But I’ll take a 4-1 win in every series from now on until the end.”
Along the way, Jackson tied Pat Riley for most playoff games coached (282) and improved to 48-1 in playoff series in which his teams held a series lead of any kind.
The Lakers will get some downtime, though they have a few items of concern.
Andrew Bynum will need to be re-incorporated into the offense after posting two points and five rebounds in 12 minutes in Game 5, his third consecutive nondescript effort.
Reserve forward Luke Walton is out at least one week because of a partially torn ligament in his left ankle.
And there’s always the chance they’ll play Portland in the next round, though the Trail Blazers could be eliminated as early as tonight.
“We really don’t have a preference,” Jackson said. “It’s interesting. That’s a much more physical series than our series is. Both teams play extremely hard.”
Change in the air
After losing to the Lakers in five games, the Jazz faces changes in the off-season, including the possible departure of Carlos Boozer.
There’s still work to do
NBA columnist Mark Heisler says that by blowing another big lead to Utah, the Lakers showed they’re not a finished product.