After the fifth game, they rested
It's a measure of the high expectations for the Lakers that after beating the Utah Jazz in five games in their best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinals series, the death blow coming in Monday night's 107-96 victory, that the focus just doesn't go away from what the Lakers aren't doing. This despite winning all four games by 10-plus points, and very nearly sweeping the disappointing-but-still-pretty-damn-good Utah squad.
They don't really have anyone to blame but themselves, which is why Lamar Odom's 26 point, 15 rebound,four assist, three block night- his third straight double-double and fifth quality outing of the series- wasn't the big story. Nor was it Kobe's 31 on 10-21 from the floor or Trevor Ariza's Swiss Army night (12/7/4 with a steal and two blocks).
What really caught people's attention (at least the people writing about the game), was another stretch run in which the Lakers had an opponent flatlining but rather than pulling the plug and calling the coroner instead juiced up the paddles and shocked them back to life.
Monday, it meant a 21 point fourth quarter lead whittled down to six before order was restored. There's good consistency and bad, and the propensity LA showed over the first round (and many of the 82 games that came before) for this sort of thing is enough to encourage fingernail chewing, or at the very least question whether or not what's under the hood really does match the slick body styling and excellent paint job.
Or maybe it's just not that big a deal.
Either way, the Lakers know they'll have to play better as the playoffs go along. And who knows, maybe the tangible proof that things aren't all moonpies and pennywhistles could do them some good. Remember, last year the Lakers lost three games en route to the Finals. A lot of good it did them, too.
Things that are unquestionably big deals:
- Odom's series. He averaged a double-double, shot over 62%, and iced last night's win with a big dunk. A fresh, healthy Odom provided a huge boost, his impact a proverbial home run.
- Despite his killer work, though, Odom will likely be moving back to the bench for the next round, whether the Lakers face Houston or Portland (the Rockets lead 3-1 going into tonight's Game 5 at the Rose Garden). As Phil Jackson told the media last night- read his full commentary in our postgame wrap, linked above- Andrew Bynum is slated to again return to the starting lineup in the second round. It's a matchup thing. But Bynum has a lot to prove after an, um, uninspiring first round. How he plays going forward will help determine just what kind of team the Lakers can field. Ironically, writes Ramona Shelburne of the Daily News, that Bynum found scads of pine time against the Jazz shows the coaching staff is no longer treating him like a kid.
- The Lakers, with the win, set themselves up for about a week's worth of rest, give or take (probably the latter by a day or so). There's no shortage of guys who can use it. Pau Gasol looked tired for most of the first round. Kobe, as AK mentioned in last night's video, seems to have been playing every day since the Roosevelt administration left office, Trevor Ariza has a squishy ankle, and Luke Walton will miss at least a week after an MRI revealed a partial tear in the deltoid tendon of his left ankle. He says he'll play in the next round, but you can't fault Walton for hoping the Rockets and Blazers go seven, giving him as much time as possible to heal. Lakers fans should root for a quick recovery, since (despite his oft unloved status among many who frequent this site) he can be a handy fellow to have around, especially if the Lakers see the Rockets in Round 2.
- Deron Williams finally got to meet Jack Nicholson (right).
The Lakers will take Tuesday off before returning to the court for practice on Wednesday.