Lakers' 16-game home winning streak over Utah Jazz shows trends in performance
The Lakers aren't making much of this, no matter how impressive it sounds.
But facts are facts and they say this: The Lakers have beaten the Utah Jazz 16 consecutive times at Staples Center, and No. 17 could come Tuesday night. Even though the Lakers have eliminated the Jazz in the last three postseasons, they still have plenty of respect for Utah. The Lakers have lost to them on the road, including a 102-98 loss in late November. And the Lakers are very cognizant of Utah's chances to end its four-game losing streak, much like when the Dallas Mavericks halted their six-game losing streak with an impressive victory last week against the Lakers.
The Jazz have had their fair share of success at EnergySolutions Arena against the Lakers, considering their 6-4 mark in the last 10 regular-season games. But it's not as deeply rooted as the Lakers home-winning streak, especially since the Lakers won two road games against Utah in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals.
"Being that they have this losing streak and how many times they lost at Staples Center," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said, I'm sure tomorrow they'll be ready."
But there's plenty of reasons why the Lakers have remained undefeated against Utah since a 98-94 loss Jan. 1, 2006, including Bryant's dominance, an impressive inside game and the Lakers' ability to hold off Utah's late-game comebacks. So even if the Lakers think very little of this streak, below the jump are a few details that explain what they can apply to avoid Utah snapping it tonight.
"Home court advantage might be a part of it," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Bryant had big nights
It's revealing that Derek Fisher's most vivid memories of this stretch doesn't entail the Lakers' dominance so much as being on the receiving end of it. Images of Bryant's 52-point performance in the Lakers' series record 132-102 victory Nov. 30, 2006 against Utah remain fresh in Fisher's mind when he played for the Jazz during the 2006-07 season. Chants of M-V-P reigned throughout Staples Center at the end of the third quarter where Bryant tied a franchise record for points in a quarter with 30. Bryant showcased his dominance in numerous ways, observed The Times' Mike Bresnahan, including an off-balance jumper, a thunderous dunk and hitting all nine of his third-quarter field-goal attempts.
So much for all the concern about his recovery from offseason arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
"Those times Kobe was just really good," Fisher said. "Those were the pre-Pau Gasol days and when Andrew [Bynum] was dominant in the middle and that type of the thing."
Fisher has obviously been on the other end of Bryant's dominance from 1996-2004 and then when he returned before the 2008-09 season. That proved to be no exception against Utah, even when the Lakers eventually had a larger supporting cast. Bryant unleashed his best shooting night in five weeks after scoring 30 points on 12 of 19 shooting in the Lakers' 104-99 Game 1 victory of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. Bryant proved instrumental in eliminating the Jazz from the 2009 postseason with a 31-point effort in the Lakers' 107-98 series-clinching win in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Bryant's 40-point performance served as one of the lone bright spots in the Lakers' otherwise sluggish 113-100 win Jan. 1, 2009 over Utah. He proved with a 26-point output in the Lakers' 111-104 Game 5 victory over Utah in the 2008 Western Conference semifinals that his lower back wasn't issue. And after being handed the MVP trophy for the 2007-2008 regular season, Bryant unleashed 34 points in the Lakers' 120-110 Game 1 victory over Utah in the 2008 Western Conference semifinals.
Bryant's scoring dominance shouldn't come as a surprise to any basketball fan. But stars are still afforded a few off nights. That doesn't happen for Bryant, however, against the Jazz.
"It's who executes their game plan better," Bryant said. "I'm sure they know everything that we run and everything they run. We've played against each other so many years and so many times, including the preseason, I'm sure we could flip flop jerseys and execute just as well."
Lakers exploited their size advantage
The Lakers, as with mostly anyone in the league, enjoy a size advantage few other teams have. Two 7-footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol as well as versatile 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom make it hard for opponents to manage the Lakers' front line. But that advantage usually hinges on whether the Lakers properly use their assets.
"Size-wise we are a team that is gifted and we have to make sure we use that against teams," Gasol said. "Utah is no different."
The Lakers have done so against Utah without much of a problem, even through the Jazz's physical and scrappy nature. The Lakers' 104-99 Game 1 victory of the 2010 Western Conference Semifinals featured the defending champions beating up on the Jazz's frontline that missed injured starters Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, with Gasol (25 points, 12 rebounds, five blocked shots) and Odom (key blocked shot on Carlos Boozer and put back with 49.9 seconds left) proving the difference. Even when the Lakers beat themselves, it made very little difference. The Lakers' 111-103 Game 2 victory over Utah in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals featured Bynum (17 points, 14 rebounds and double double in the first half) tolerating the slight cartilage tear in his right knee and Odom giving little thought to his slightly sprained right knee (11 points, 15 rebounds).
And when the Lakers and Jazz were healthy, the Lakers' frontline was still equally effective. There was Odom's season-high 26-point performance in the Lakers' 106-92 victory April 2, 2010 over Utah. There was Gasol notching his 10,000th career point after a 21-point effort in the Lakers' 113-100 victory Jan. 2, 2009. And there was Bynum's 22-point effort in only 30 minutes of play in the Lakers' 125-112 victory April 14, 2009 over Utah.
Both Odom (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Gasol (21 points, eight assists) proved critical in the late-game moments in the Lakers' 111-104 victory in the 2008 Western Conference semifinals. Gasol rebounded Sasha Vujacic's missed three-point attempt that resulted in Bryant finding Odom for an open dunk to give the Lakers a 103-100 lead. Gasol a possession later backed down Okur in the post and scored on a left-handed layup, giving the Lakers a 105-102 edge with 1:18 left. Gasol then followed that a putback dunk off Vujacic's missed three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 107-102 lead with 20.5 seconds remaining.
"We've seen them so much due to the playoffs and the regular season," Odom said. "They know what we're going to run. We know what they're going to run. Both teams won't be surprised by anything the other team does. Both teams will be prepared."/p>
Lakers staved off comebacks
It's not just the respect level the Lakers have for the Jazz that make them take very little from beating Utah 16 consecutive times at home. It's that many of them came close to losses, thanks to Utah's ability and willingness to come back from large deficits.
That's why the Lakers' 104-99 victory in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Playoffs prompted few smiles afterward. After taking a 14-point second-quarter lead to Utah, the Jazz cut it down enough to force the Laker starters back in the game to secure the victory. Poor play from the Lakers' reserves, Deron Williams dropping 24 points and eight assists, and Paul Millsap's late-game charge with 16 points and nine rebounds all contributed to Utah's 12-1 run that contributed to a 93-89 lead with four minutes remaining. Then the Lakers woke up, going on a 15-6 charge, including a signature block from Odom on Carlos Boozer following by a putback with 49.9 seconds remaining.
Interestingly enough, the Lakers' 111-103 Game 2 victory played out in pretty much the same fashion. A 2-0 deficit would be welcomed in most circles. But the Lakers again lamented failing to secure what would've been an easy win. Committing 11 of 20 turnovers in the second half, going four of 17 from three-point range and allowing Utah to trim a 15-point third-quarter deficit into a Lakers' 98-94 lead with 5:01 remaining does that. It's an attribute that speaks well to Utah's resiliency during a well-fought series, particularly with the Jazz having to absorb injuries to starters Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko.
The Lakers easily could've watched tape of the first round of the 2009 playoffs or the 2008 Western Conference semifinals to know they shouldn't believe any lead over the Jazz is safe. The Lakers' 107-96 Game 4 victory in the 2009 playoffs meant a semifinal matchup with the Houston Rockets, but it didn't come without headaches. They saw a 22-point third-quarter lead dwindle to six with 3:43 to play, prompting the starters once again to reenter the contest to secure the victory. If this sounds redundant, that's because it is. The Lakers' 113-100 Game 1 victory in the 2009 playoffs also featured a 22-point halftime lead getting slashed, thanks to Utah grabbing 20 offensive rebounds, attempting 28 free throws and featuring offensive balance in Williams (16 points, 17 assists), Boozer (27 points) and Millsap (15 points). And there was the Lakers' 109-98 Game 1 victory of the 2008 Western Conference semifinals that featured a blown 19-point lead thanks to 58-41 rebounding deficit and Utah showcasing its physical play with 33 fouls.
"There had been games where we had gotten out to a big lead and they were able to battle back and pull within two or four and we had to close the game out at the end," Fisher said. "It hasn't just been that we've beaten them by 20 or 30 points every time they've come here. Some differences could be that it's home and road. Utah over the last few years has had young plays play key minutes. On the road, there are times guys will struggle. But we expect it to be a tough game tomorrow regardless of what's happened in the past."
This pattern didn't always extend to the regular season. The Lakers' 106-92 victory April 3, 2010 and, 125-112 victory April 14, 2009 and 101-77 win Dec. 9, 2009 over Utah each featured strong second-half efforts, with the latter contest including a 20-0 run and holding Utah to the third fewest fourth quarter points (6) before the NBA's shot clock era. The outcome of the Lakers' 123-109 victory Dec. 28, 2007 was decided by halftime; the outcome of the Lakers' 132-102 victory Nov. 30, 2007 was decided by the end of the third quarter. But the Lakers' inconsistency and Utah's relentless play happened enough times to make the Lakers know they shouldn't believe any lead is safe against the Jazz. That inconsistency in the Lakers' 113-110 win Jan. 1, 2009 over Utah prompted Lakers fans at Staples Center to boo the team following because its inability to hold two double-digit leads resulted in a missed opportunity for free tacos. The Lakers could've fallen into ninth place in the Western Conference standings had they not secured a 94-88 victory Feb. 13, 2006 over Utah after evaporating a 26-points lead.
So even though the Lakers have prevailed in these games, they say the outcomes don't give them comfort. This pattern doesn't reveal so much their dominance over Utah as it does that their talent level and execution is required to put away a relentless and hard-working Jazz team.
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