Reporting from Salt Lake City
Maybe, the Lakers are beginning to believe, they can overtake the league-leading San Antonio Spurs.
The Lakers appear to be on a mission to capture the best record in the NBA and the home-court advantage that goes with it, slicing up opponent after opponent, this time dispatching the Utah Jazz, 96-85, Friday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Lakers are 17-1 since the All-Star break, and have won nine in a row.
The Spurs have stumbled, losing six straight, the latest an overtime defeat to the Houston Rockets on Friday night.
That pulled the Lakers to within 11/2 games of the reeling Spurs, whom they trailed by nine games at the break. With seven regular-season games remaining, the Lakers can put more pressure on the Spurs, who have six games left.
"Yeah, that's the goal. We want to get the best record in the league," Bynum said. "We want to be in first place. We still have a game against them [April 12], too, which is really big."
As for Jackson, he pointed to Sunday's game against the Denver Nuggets, then to Tuesday's game against the Jazz at Staples Center, and then the trip to Golden State on Wednesday and to Portland next Friday.
Jackson said if the Lakers get through those games, then he's willing to talk about the last three, which will be against Oklahoma City, San Antonio and the regular-season finale at Sacramento.
"It's simply this: We've played very well and you can go out and have a stinker like we had in the first half [tonight] and lose a ballgame," Jackson said. "And not have that energy in the second half to come back and win. It's asking a lot of a team to continue at that pace and expect them to play at that pace.
"We want to do it and we have every urgency to do it. But the odds are against us. It's still a real tough thing to do."
The Lakers won this game without reserve Matt Barnes, serving a one-game suspension for his part in an altercation during Thursday night's win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Bryant finished the game.
The Lakers won this game with Lamar Odom playing despite an upset stomach that forced him to return to the locker room three times before he entered the game late in the first quarter.
Odom finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
"We're playing with purpose," Jackson said. "Our defense is pretty good. We're still weak in areas, but we're covering up."
Jackson's team played with little purpose early.
The Lakers went down by 13 points in the first quarter and followed that up by going down by 17 in the second.
They had the look of an uninspired team, a team that was sleepwalking against a Jazz team that has had a lot of turnover this season.
For years, Jackson had matched wits with Utah Coach Jerry Sloan.
But Sloan walked away in early February and turned the team over to Tyrone Corbin.
"We lose a valuable person not having Jerry Sloan," Jackson said. "He had a very good work ethic."