It was ugly, that’s for sure. But it was a win.
And now that the Lakers are actually jockeying for playoff positioning, something they didn’t get to experience in any of the last five seasons, wins are important no matter how they come.
The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 90-83 on Friday night at Staples Center, despite getting their lowest point total of the season, turning the ball over 23 times and having just 10 assists. For more than 21/2 quarters, LeBron James was the only Laker to record an assist.
Still, they won for the seventh time in eight games in their return from a three-game trip, and now the Lakers are 11-7, just one game back from the leaders in the Western Conference
“It was horrible,” James said. “Horrible. Horrible, man. You look at the stats man, but offensively, we just found a way late in the game. But we just defended. The best thing about it, when we was turning the ball over ... we still held them in the half court. We did a number on them in the half court defensively. But we’re not gonna win many games like that.”
Brandon Ingram, asked why the assist numbers were so low, offered: “Maybe Thanksgiving. Everybody’s a little overweight probably.”
James became more aggressive in the fourth quarter. He scored 22 points, nine of them in the fourth quarter, and hit a three-pointer with 3:17 left that gave the Lakers a nine-point lead. As he backpedaled toward Utah’s basket, James held out his arms in celebration as the crowd cheered.
That three was important in giving the Lakers their 11th win of the season, but a defensive play minutes later really sealed the game.
Within five in the game’s final minute, Jazz guard Alec Burks drove to the basket and James, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma all converged on him, and James blocked his shot. The play elicited the first “We want tacos!” chant of the season — fans get free tacos from Jack in the Box when the Lakers win and hold an opponent under 100 points.
Ingram led all scorers with 24 points while Ball scored nine points with 10 rebounds. Burks led the Jazz with 17 points and five rebounds. Jazz star guard Donovan Mitchell left in the first half with a rib contusion and didn’t return.
“Lonzo was great again as far as attacking the paint, 10 defensive rebounds,” coach Luke Walton said. “… I thought Kuzma’s defense on [Joe] Ingles was very impressive. … Brandon had a pretty solid all-around game and LeBron was great for us down the stretch.”
Last season the Jazz were a pleasant surprise. After losing star Gordon Hayward in free agency, rookie Mitchell became a breakout star. After the All-Star break they were by far the best defensive team in the NBA, with a defensive rating of 97.9.
In the playoffs, the Jazz surprised the Oklahoma City Thunder by beating them in a first-round series.
This year, however, the Jazz have struggled. They are 8-11 and have been a mediocre defensive team, with a defensive rating of 108.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have been steadily improving on defense. They held their opponent under 100 points for the second time in three games.
Behind an assertive performance from Ingram, who had 11 points including two dunks in the first quarter, the Lakers led 22-16 after one.
At one point in the second quarter, neither team scored for two full minutes. The Lakers broke the drought, but it took the Jazz two more minutes before they finally scored with 3:17 left in the quarter.
Although the Jazz tied the score by halftime at 38, they didn’t take their first lead of the game until 6:15 remained in the third quarter.
Ultimately, Utah couldn’t overcome its second-lowest scoring night of the season. The lowest came last week when the Jazz scored 68 and lost by 50 to the Dallas Mavericks.