Lakers defeat Jazz, 96-71
You can't lose them all.
It might have seemed a distinct possibility to jittery Lakers fans after their team's 0-2 start, but there remain more than a handful of NBA teams the quality of the visitors who took the Staples Center court Tuesday night.
A retooled Utah lineup could not hang with the Lakers, even though the home team was completing its first and only back-to-back-to-back situation of the season and the younger, speedier Jazz was presumably fresh while making their season debut.
Kobe Bryant had 26 points on eight-for-17 shooting for the Lakers and Pau Gasol had 22 points, making six of 11 shots and 10 of 12 free throws.
The Lakers' defense tightened considerably after some haphazard moments in opening losses to Chicago and Sacramento, holding Utah to 32.2% shooting. The Jazz was particularly atrocious from behind the three-point line, making one of 13 shots.
Paul Millsap had 18 points for Utah, which trailed by as many as 29 points in the third quarter.
Metta World Peace had his second consecutive strong game off the bench with 14 points on five-for-nine shooting. Troy Murphy did not score but had 11 rebounds and four assists for the Lakers before fouling out with 5:23 left in the game.
It could be a victory eight months in the making.
That was the last time the Lakers enjoyed a triumph, beating New Orleans last April to close out their first-round playoff series.
Since then, the Lakers have endured a four-game sweep against Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals, a pair of preseason losses to the Clippers and an 0-2 start to the 2011-12 season.
But they are comfortably on their way to a triumphant end to their only back-to-back-to-back situation of the season, leading Utah by as many as 29 points in the third quarter.
Kobe Bryant has 19 points, making six of 14 shots, and Pau Gasol has 18 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers. The latter's production wasn't enough to please some fans who chanted "We want Howard!" as Gasol shot free throws late in the third quarter, a not-so-subtle reference to Orlando center Dwight Howard.
Paul Millsap has nine points for the Jazz, who are shooting an abysmal 28.2%, making only one of 10 three-point shots.
Lakers 41, Jazz 31 (halftime)
There were some unusual sights in the first half for the Lakers: Jason Kapono on the court, Kobe Bryant throwing up an airball from behind the three-point line and, most significantly, a double-digit Lakers lead.
An early season in which just about everything had gone wrong took a giant turn for the better for the Lakers, who took a 41-31 halftime lead over Utah on Tuesday at Staples Center.
Lakers small forward Metta World Peace, of all people, provided the second-quarter highlight with a pump fake from behind the arc before taking off and dunking emphatically to give the Lakers a 35-22 lead.
Not to be outdone, Bryant added an explosive drive to the basket for a dunk on the way to seven points. Pau Gasol had 11 points, including a putback at the halftime buzzer, and Steve Blake had eight for the Lakers, who were holding the Jazz to 26% shooting.
Josh Howard had six points for Utah, which had only three players get halfway to double-figures scoring. Al Jefferson had four points on two-for-14 shooting, though he did have 10 rebounds.
Kapono even made a long jumper for the Lakers to get in the scorebook.
Lakers 18, Jazz 17 (end of first quarter)
The Lakers were doing their best not to make a third consecutive team a winner in its season debut, taking a one-point lead over Utah after the first quarter Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Losers against Chicago on Sunday and Sacramento on Monday, the Lakers wanted to avoid back-to-back-to-back defeats to open their season.
Of course, a lineup that included names such as Favors and Millsap and Bell probably shouldn't beat one with Bryant, Gasol and Fisher on its home floor, even with center Andrew Bynum still serving his suspension for committing a flagrant foul in last season's playoffs.
Gasol was aggressive in the early going, scoring seven points, and Bryant and Steve Blake each made a three-pointer for the Lakers, who were shooting 37.5% to Utah's 30.4%.
Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap had four points apiece for Utah.
There was a Jason Kapono sighting after the Lakers shooting guard made his season debut with 2 minutes 2 seconds left in the quarter after sitting out the first two games.
-- Ben Bolch
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives to the basket in front of Utah center Enes Kanter during the first half of Tuesday's game at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times