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Lakers find Thursday's practice instrumental in 106-92 victory over Utah Jazz

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The Lakers walked into Thursday's practice with more of an eagerness to play than to sulk. They approached the practice with more of an eagerness to learn than to point fingers. And they finished the practice with more of an eagerness to replicate the improved execution in an actual game than wonder if it's at all possible.

The Lakers had plenty of reason to allow frustrations to get the better of them coming off a 2-3 trip. Heck, there were already visible signs that had already taken place, what with Kobe Bryant's post-game scowls, Sasha Vujacic's argument with the coaching staff and the entire team's flustered and angry look it gave one another after each mistake. The Lakers situation was so bleak, admitted General Manager Mitch Kupchak that he and owner Jerry Buss had decided to watch practice together, though Kupchak noted that the two didn't talk specifics about the team's dynamics. But the meaning was well understood. 

Said Kupchak: "He's aware and I'm aware and you guys are aware that we’re not playing our best basketball right now."

That's why the Lakers deemed the practice to be so important. They went through the triangle offense until it was properly executed and reviewed the team's defensive rotations until they were fully sharpened. And the reason for that changed outlook was pretty simple.

"It’s guys understanding that we can be beat," Bryant said. "You got to really know that. You can look up and all of a sudden you have a short postseason. It’s that reality that needed to set in. [Derek Fisher] and I can talk and talk and talk about our experience but until the young fellas go through it and feel that themselves, I think that’s when the change happens."

The Lakers made the first step in making that change with a 106-92 victory Friday over the Utah Jazz, marking their 14th consecutive victory over Utah at Staples Center. Not only did the victory come against a possible playoff opponent, the Lakers (55-21) have a comfortable five-game lead over Dallas (50-26) and Phoenix (50-26) as well as a five-and-a-half game advantage over Utah (50-27). And the performance featured a balanced offense that did wonders.

Lakers forward Lamar Odom had a season-high 26 points and 10 rebounds, Pau Gasol complemented him inside, falling short of a triple double with 14 points, 16 rebounds and a season-high nine assists. And Fisher turned his shooting around with 14 points on a five of seven clip. That balance trumpeted Bryant's 25 points on five of 23 shooting and a 15 of 18 finish at the charity stripe, a performance he acknowledged partly had to do with his fractured right index finger getting wacked a few too many times.

While Bryant was largely the center of focus on Friday for officially agreeing to a three-year extension that will likely result in playing his entire career with the Lakers, the subtext to that story involved the fact Odom, Andrew Bynum, Ron Artest and Gasol are also locked in to long-term deals. That clearly shows the Lakers' success will be primarily based on how cohesive the team plays together. That happened against the Jazz, even with Bynum missing his seventh consecutive game because of a strained left Achilles' tendon.

The Lakers' effort against Utah illustrated that potential. And the team points to Thursday's practice as being instrumental in unlocking it. Bryant said the practice "helped clarify some of the things we wanted to do." Gasol added, "things were really clicking out there and we had a really good flow on our game even though we we were tired." And Fisher concluded, "we figured some things out yesterday in practice that carried over today." This was something the team often lamented, not having a full practice even during the team's trip. Though no one criticized Phil Jackson's approach in giving the team the day off both Sunday and Tuesday this week, the team acknowledged the extra time together Thursday helped. 

So why does this matter?

Said Odom: "Running the offense the right way gives us energy and balance defensively."

That was on full display right away against Utah, with the Lakers jumping out to a 33-16 first-quarter lead because of those two ingredients. The Lakers shot 63.6% from the field and held the Jazz to 30% shooting, and there were plenty of examples to illustrate what went into that quick start.

On the first offensive play of the game, Bryant threw an alley oop to Odom, who laid the lob off the glass. Bryant suffocated Utah guard Wesley Matthews on the next possession, and stole the ball from him after he picked up his dribble. A few possessions later, Gasol kicked out of a double team to Artest, who then passed the ball around the perimeter to Fisher, who nailed the open trey.

Following a Lakers timeout with the team leading 13-8 with 6:54 remaining in the first quarter, the offensive and defensive synergy kept clicking. As Bryant flashed to the right post, Artest found Odom open on the far corner and then cut to the far baseline. He caught an entry pass from Odom, dribbled twice and converted on a hook shot. Artest then stole an entry pass from Deron Willliams and passed to Fisher on the break. Fisher spun in the paint and dished the ball to Odom, who scored on the easy layin. The next possession? Same thing, different players. Bryant swiped the ball from Boozer before he made an errant pass to Gasol. He one-timed it to Bryant, who ran the break and was credited with a layup because of Mehmet Okur's goaltend. 

As usual, the Lakers' poor bench play largely led the Jazz closing the score to 75-71 with 10:57 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Odom resolved that quickly, hitting two threes and then converting off a rebound and drawing the three-point play. Odom's nine consecutive points gave the Lakers a 81-72 lead with 9:05 left in the game, an advantage so safe that Vujacic played in the final 3:03 of the game after reportedly buying the coaches breakfast earlier in the day. Yep, everything, at least for one night, was right in Lakerdom.

The positive after effects were fully visible. 

As Gasol walked out of the locker room, he remarked to Odom. "Congratulations." The two clasped hands. "Thank you. You had a great game," Odom said. "You too," Gasol responded as he walked out the door. Moments later, Bryant waxed nostalgic to reporters about his contract extension, leading ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky to joke to Bryant that it was good he signed the extension before his bad shooting night or else management would have reconsidered. Bryant burst out laughing before saying, "We're pretty good at negotiating."

That was a much different atmosphere than the team's recent five-game trip. Nonetheless, the Lakers have shown plenty of positive glimpses this season wedged between poor performances. Case in point, after starting off last week's trip with an impressive win against San Antonio, the Lakers followed suit with a 1-3 mark the rest of the trip.  At least the Lakers made the first step toward erasing that poor habits with an impressive practice followed by an impressive victory. The next step involves doing that again Sunday against San Antonio. 

"It really translated to the game today," Gasol said of Thursday's practice. "We have to make sure we continue to do that every single night."

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom and guard Kobe Bryant (24) kick back on the bench with ice packs on knees during the final minutes of a 106-92 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night at Staples Center. Credit: Danny Moloshok/Associated Press.

 
Comments () | Archives (18)

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Great article. Lakers need to practice more. Esp the weak bench.

Hi Mark:

Thanks for the early thread. 6A posting, wow! You're now a certified Lakerholic (And just me who constantly kidded by my family members to get a life during the NBA season). I'm ready for the start of the playoff!!

It's a great win for us last night. Good to see DFish turns some corner and Sasha entered the game late in the 4th QTR. However, Kobe's recent shooting slum does concern me and hope he gets better in this department soon. As of right now, Lakers will face the Jailblazers in the first round which is not too good. I prefer to face the Spurs. We the Lakers beat the Spurs tomorrow, the Spurs will drop to the 8th position and Portland moves up one spot to the 7th.

Have a great day and again Mark, well done sir!!!

FLorida:
a series of strip malls surrounded by swamp but a good place to watch one of the last Shuttle launches and the Lakers turn it around.

Roland Lazenby said: "it has seemed that the best pairing is either one of the big men with sixth man Lamar Odom."

Andrew and Pau are a big reason why the Lakers are a ring favorite but not necessarily because they play so well together. Andrew is a true center, Pau is a tweener but when Lamar is on his game, the Lakers are beast, as my sons would say. Last night was easy. LO made it so.

A troublin' trend: the ball still seems to stop with Shannon. Kobe, Pau, Lo, Ron swing passes around the key and the rock stalls in Shannon's hands. He's still not sure when to do what on offense. Hopefully, more tune up practices before the big dance will eliminate some of the indecision.

It's April, and nobody does April like Phil and the Lakers. A tweak here, 84 million there, a great time to be a Laker fan.

Toldja. Better hop on that Redemption Tour Band Wagon.

Ron's floating on his jumpers. Please fix that immediately, Ron!

Otherwise, enjoyed the win, not sure it makes us into who we think we are.

Great game. Massive, sustained playoff energy. Good, not great yet, team and ball movement. 50%+ shooting (by all but Kobe...hey, what would YOUR shooting average be the day you signed for $84 million?!).

These were the real Lakers. The PLAYOFF Lakers. The rest of the league (yeah, I'm talkin bout YOU LeCrabsters) better be afraid. Very afraid.

Odom...unreal. Fish...back in time for the ring ceremony. Pau...nice. Artest...starting to smell it. Farmar and Shannon...still awkward pups, but Phil knows their quickness and athleticism will be game changers in the 4th Q of the playoffs.

Yeah, babeeee...THIS is what we've been waiting for.

LAKER AMIGOS, LET'S RIDE!!!

Mark, another job well done. A very intelligent, yet easily digested thread.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

What a great news to have Kobe re-signed but at what price $90M for 3 years only. Why three and not 4 year @ 100M? The latter brings down his annual pay to 25M which gives the Laker a leeway to find a quality PG. Right now, with the luxury threshold caps, Lakers bargaining chips are tied to MLE and BiA or trade. kobe wanted the max, LO went for the max last summer, Gasol opted for the max he can get, what about the supporting cast?

Which team wants to trade for Luke or Sasha? We in the blog have given everyone a good scouting report to the detail and they believed what u all said. I read in a couple of threads people wishing for Deron Williams and CP3. We are again daydreaming without any clear thoughts on CBA rules, perhaps it is time to consult our stat gurus LTLF & Blitz to know what it takes to get those guys.

Here is a question that was never covered by M/M in his series of threads. What is going on with our scouting group? What is the report on Vlade Divac's role in the international scene? What we read is a game to game analysis and reporting, can we go out of the Laker world and offer out there in form of a thread?

Don't worry about the Lakers, there just bored of the long regular season. Don't worry about their record on the road. Remember the Miami Heat in 2006 and the San Antonio Spurs in 2005. Both of their road records were 21-20 and when the second season began, they were tearing up teams away from home. Make note of this, only three times that the best record in NBA has gone on to win the title since 2000 and Cavs had the record last year and this will the same case this year. Keep in mind Shaq has out for a while and he is no spring chicken like he used to be, so I wouldn't count on that to stop Dwight Howard. This doesn't gurantee a playoff victory for the Cavs. Now on the other hand if Lakers lay an egg starting with first round or semis, then it's time to panic, but I don't think this will be the case. Did you see Lamar last night? He looked hungry. He came with a fork. And count on it, come playoff time, that is the Odom you will see. The regular season means squat. Bring on the real games. All you other Lakers fans stop whining about how their in trouble, they have the second best record in the NBA and they have owned Jailblazers for the last twelve years in playoffs.


LAKERS FOR THEIR 16TH CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR!!!!

Great Win... we needed that, Kobe had another poor shooting night which is another concern. There are so many shots per game and his shot efficiency is below par, in the playoffs can't have it. That one on one kills the flow of the offense, Detroit finals are still in my memory, one of the most terrible shooting displays ever. But great win last night for the boys, can't wait till Sundays game.

Yes we won at home against the Utah Jazz. As a result we forgot the losses on the road for we are relieved and comfortable again. Is this the Laker tradition of excellence? Nobody has 20/20 vision on what the future holds but biggest mistake we made before All Stars Game were as follows:

A. Kobe should have had surgery on those mangled fingers especially the index finger and by this time it may have been healed and ready for the playoffs. At present, the fate of the “repeat” rest on that finger. He could not even shoot free throws decently, no explosion on his long hang time lay-ups and absence of stick-it-on your face defense because he is concerned in protecting the index finger. Last night, he went out of foul line box as he cringed in pain for that thorn finger.

B. Going for Hinrich as the Lakers PG or going with Watson of Pacers up to the end of the season only could have filled the PG void. Had we done that, then Lakers could rest Kobe/Fisher, release Ammo and Farmar.

C. A lot of 'holics would disagree with this idea, the best ingredient of going for “guaranteed” post player, an Olympian and a healthy star should have been Chris Bosh in exchange of injury-proned, Bynum. Offensively, they are both the same however defensively Bosh has tremendous talent and advantage in that area.

Our blog guru, LakerTom said we missed Bynum in those losses on the road. Of course we do and the same with Walton. We need a #5 and a #3 to play few minutes to relieve those injured players out there from Kobe, Lamar, Artest and Brown. But NO, they are injured and we can do anything it. They are injured not only once but every year yet they will pocket $13M and 4.9M while the other big salary players are also glued on the bench Vujacic 5M and Morrison 5.25M that's total of 24.15M of dead assets. Tell this any corporate executive and they will tell you that is one ineffective use of resources.

Had Mitch opted for those decisions while Kobe listened to the doctors instead of relying on his ego that this finger would heal on its own, we would be in better situation feeling and comfortable at this time as we head to the playoffs. Don’t you think it is enough to meet the goal of 60 wins with Gasol, Bosh, Hinrich or Watson, Artest, Lamar and Brown plus Powell and Mbenga in the 2nd half?

Well just like in 2006 season, Mitch K is again is in do-nothing laid back mode, we are coming around with our set of players. Lakers don't need help from players that have been cut There is no need re-seeding talents with this team, all we do is recycle the last Championship run.

"Well just like in 2006 season, Mitch K is again is in do-nothing laid back mode, we are coming around with our set of players. Lakers don't need help from players that have been cut There is no need re-seeding talents with this team, all we do is recycle the last Championship run."


edwin, we cannot expect mitch to make trades everytime something goes wrong with the lakers. I've been reading this blog since it started but never posted, and I'm shocked on how you "real" lakers fan whine about every single thing.

this isn't some virtual game such as nba2k10 where you pretty much can make any trade possible. You make it seem like trades are easy to make in reality.

and fellow bloggers, isn't this the same lakers squad that won it all last year? The same bench who YOU ALL praised as the "Bench Mob"? and now when they're injured and underperforming, they're now called an ineffective use of resources.

Stop all the CP3 dreams. Lebron dreams. Be HAPPY WITH YOUR TEAM. Dr. Buss goes out of his way and risks his money because he hears the fans' demands. After he does what he wants you guys to do: sign shannon, extend pau, lock up bynum; you guys whine and complain about these players..

Relax. Enjoy the ride while it lasts. remember, these were also the same scrubs that lose to those suns in 06 and in 07. minus pau and artest.

Jazuela,

"edwin, we cannot expect mitch to make trades everytime something goes wrong with the lakers. I've been reading this blog since it started but never posted, and I'm shocked on how you "real" lakers fan whine about every single thing. "

I don't expect Mitck K. to make trades at this time....too late but you can still pick on players being cut on a two week try out just like this jeffers of Utah Jazz that is just an example. We need abled body out there to rest veterans for few minutes.

On the botched trades before the ASG break, they were needed in order to rest Kobe for surgery. One of the problems why Phil could not rest the veterans, we do not have abled body out there to compete consistently. Yes, they won 4 games w/o Kobe, can they continue that pace on the 2nd half w/o change. I opted for Bosh instead of Bynum because our baby drew could not withstand the rigors of NBA 82 game season, he gets injured in the last three years when we were expecting much from him. W/o Bynum and Kobe in the 2nd half, there is no way they could reach 60 wins which is a required mark to be #1 in the West.

Lastly, we are looking for solutions not just whine from nowhere. If lakers don't have the objective of "repeat" then that is fine. If Lakers are not paying high salaries at luxury level, then that is fine. If Lakers management are managing teams like Golden State, Clippers, T'wolves, Nets...then that is fine. We are the Lakers with a winning tradition of winning consistently and consecutively. We need the best players and best brains in basketball at all times. We can't settle for halfway mediocrity and start trashing players without any offering any alternatives. What I said jazuela is related to past action not present.

"Don't worry about the Lakers, there just bored of the long regular season."

What's the meaning of "THERE"??

Shouldn't it be: They're ??

That's the trouble with people today, you just DON'T care and are unprofessional.

Get it right!! And don't look like a dope!!! :-)

Ace, lets just stick to the topic. It was a typo error and realized I choose the wrong word. After that, it was too late. Let's not get a??l receptive about this. This is what makes me appreciate not living in So-Cal anymore. You all appear to be rude and are too busy getting caught with b.s. such as this.

So...Brian Kamenetsky got jokes, huh? That comment he made to Kobe is pretty darn funny!!

Seriously, though, I was glad to see the Lakers get back to their winning ways. If not for the Deron Williams uprising in the 2nd quarter, this would have been a real easy game. Utah really has nothing for the Lakers. The Lakers are just too big for them. Even Kirilenko doesn't change that. It's strange how after all these years with Jerry Sloan, Utah has never had a really good big center. They have had decent role players such as Ostertag, and a shot blocking phenom like Mark Eaton. But they never had a good all around big to team with Stockton and Malone. And it's more of the same with Okur, who is basically a 7 foot shooting guard.

Kobe really struggled with his shooting percentage but managed to get to the line and still occupied Utah's defense en ough to create chances for his teammates. Shooting percentage can be overrated. While it's important, I compare it to a baseball player's batting average, which also is not always the best indicator of production.

Anyway....GO LAKERS!!!

MM, great follow up to last nights victory! damn, you're up early AND i slept like baby last night. i'm not going stress out about lakers anymore.....i hope OR until their next loss, ha ha. one thing i'm still concerned about is the bench play. they keep surrendering the lead. let's face it, they're there to hold the fort down until we get the studs back in the game, kobe, l.o., pau, artest, bynum. WHO IN THE NBA HAS A BETTER 5 THAN THOSE GUYS? i'd say, NO ONE! however, that being said, we're still going to be weak off the bench until 'drew comeS back. ok, BENCH MOB, it's time to re-surface, NUT IT UP, ya hear me?

I have to agree with Edwin on the Bosh for Bynum trade- if it was ever really possible.
Bynum has proven every year that his body can't hold up for an entire season. Bosh is very hungry and focused.
As for Kobe's extension, couldn't he have sacraficed a few of those millions so we could go out and get a real PG this summer? The dude complained in that past about not having enough talent around him, but when it comes to getting his, he's not willing to budge. The dude has enough money for the next five generations of his family to live in extreme comfort. I just don't get the greed.
If he truly wanted to be considered the best ever, he would realize that sacraficing some money could greatly increase his chances of winning more rings with the addition of more talent around himself.
I do agree that Kobe is the best player in the NBA and should be compensated accordingly, but is the money that more important than the addition of multiple rings?


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