The Utah Jazz used to bring out the worst in the Lakers.
Who could forget Kobe Bryant’s four airballs as a rookie in the 1997 playoffs? Or Utah’s dominant sweep the next year, Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant unable to stop Karl Malone and John Stockton.
The championship hopes are nil for both franchises now, but the Jazz is back to making the Lakers look dreadful.
Utah punted the Lakers for the second time in as many weeks, leading by 26 points in the second quarter and breezing to a 109-82 victory Saturday.
There was more pitifully sad offense for the Lakers after scoring only 74 points last week against Utah. Down at halftime, 60-36, there was another chance at setting the franchise record for fewest points in the shot-clock era (70 in 2002 against Cleveland).
It didn’t happen, symbolic of a night when, really, nothing happened for the Lakers.
Bryant looked every bit like he was in his 20th NBA season, hobbling around the court because of a sore Achilles’ tendon and not playing after halftime.
“Try not to go to the basket as much,” Bryant said. “Hope the jump shot’s falling and this way you don’t have to penetrate as much.”
Bryant scored five points on two-for-eight shooting and said that “taking two weeks off is not on the menu.”
He wasn’t the only injury of note. Larry Nance Jr. played the first three minutes before leaving because of a sore right knee. It left the door open for the severely struggling Julius Randle, who made only three of 10 shots.
The Lakers shot 32.6% last week against Utah and nearly matched it Saturday (34.4%). They lost by 20 points or more for the ninth time.
Jordan Clarkson had 10 points on ragged five-for-13 shooting. D’Angelo Russell had 13 points and four assists, the best numbers among the Lakers’ youth.
“We didn’t set screens, we didn’t run our offense, guys tried to do it on their own and we’re not good enough to that,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “We got what we deserved.”
Rudy Gobert had 18 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots for Utah, which led by 36 points at one point.
Long before the rout, there was plenty of nostalgic talk about past playoff series with Utah even though the Lakers, and presumably Bryant, play here again in March.
Jazz guard Raul Neto streches to grab the ball against Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. during a game on Jan. 16.(Steve C. Wilson / Associated Press)
Kobe Bryant guards Jazz forward Gordon Hayward (20) during the first quarter of a game on Jan. 16.(Steve C. Wilson / Associated Press)
Jazz guard Trey Burke, left, drives to the basket past Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, right, during the first half of a game on Jan. 16.(Steve C. Wilson / Associated Press)
As a rookie, Bryant shot several airballs late in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, including a last-second shot that could have ended the game. Instead, he added three more airballs in overtime and the Lakers were eliminated, 98-93.
The next year was even worse, a meek sweep at the hands of the Jazz.
“That was a very miserable summer for me,” Bryant said. “Every day I thought about it. I thought about trying to get past these guys.”
Bryant did beat Utah three times in the playoffs on the way to NBA Finals appearances in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
He remembered the fans here, oddly enough, saying they were the most vocal of them all.
“They were really, really tough on me. More so than the other crowds,” he said. “From signs to shooting free throws to literally just yelling right in my ear [while] taking the ball out. It [ticked] me off so much.”
Via quirk of the schedule, not to mention his recent injury history, Bryant hadn’t played against Utah since January 2013.
Maybe he’ll last more than two quarters when the Lakers play here again in two months. Maybe the Lakers will even score 85 points.
Follow Mike Bresnahan on Twitter: @Mike_Bresnahan