After finishing three games in roughly 56 hours with their best effort yet, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers demonstrated why their demise might not be as imminent as many thought.
Bryant scored 26 points, Pau Gasol added 22 points and nine rebounds, and the Lakers avoided just the fourth 0-3 start in franchise history with a 96-71 victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.
Metta World Peace scored 14 points for the Lakers, who had much more life than the Jazz despite playing their third game in three nights to open the season. Los Angeles ran away with a dominant third quarter, making a 27-8 surge out of halftime in the club’s first win for coach Mike Brown.
After a tumultuous preseason under a new coaching staff, several injuries and the NBA’s only three-games-in-three-nights start, the Lakers realize they’re still lacking a consistent identity and a thorough knowledge of Brown’s game plan. At least a blowout win over the Jazz allowed them to enjoy their first day off since training camp began.
”We’re a very active team,” Bryant said. ”This is a blue-collar team. We’re a scrappy bunch. You saw that. We’re going to fight and scratch and claw for everything, as it should be. That’ll get us by.”
With a Christmas loss to the Chicago Bulls and another defeat in Sacramento one night later, the Lakers got off to their first 0-2 start since the 2002-03 season. But Los Angeles has started 0-3 just three times in franchise history – just once in the last 50 years (1978-79).
Utah missed 17 of its first 19 shots in the second quarter while the Lakers made a 13-0 run capped by a one-handed dunk by World Peace, the normally ground-bound leader of Los Angeles’ second unit. Los Angeles blew out the Jazz after halftime, jumping to a 68-39 lead with a 12-2 run.
”To hold a team to 32 percent and 71 points in an NBA game, I don’t care who you’re playing, you’re doing something right on that end of the floor,” Brown said. ”The focus, the energy, the effort, that communication and trust that we brought defensively, was exciting to see.”
The Lakers comprehensively shut down the Jazz, the last NBA team to open its regular season. Paul Millsap had 18 points and 10 rebounds for Utah, but coach Tyrone Corbin scowled throughout the lowest-scoring performance in an opener in franchise history.
”They’re a veteran team, they have a lot of pride, and they have some great players in that locker room,” Corbin said. ”I told our guys before the game, `If you expect them to come out and lay down because they’re playing there games in three nights, you’re mistaken.’ They wanted to get the monkey off their back as soon as they could, and they played like it.”
In the Jazz’s first season opener without coach Jerry Sloan running their bench since 1988, Utah made just 20 shots in the first three quarters and shot 20 fewer free throws than the Lakers. Al Jefferson went 2 for 16, C.J. Miles was 1 for 8, and rookie Enes Kanter was 1 for 7 in his NBA debut.
At least Utah’s 25-point loss was one point better than the biggest blowout loss in Utah opener history.
”It didn’t seem like much was working for us,” said Utah forward Gordon Hayward, who had seven points. ”It felt like we were a little stagnant, just standing around and watching a little bit. They kind of blew it open in the third quarter, and we can’t allow that to happen. But it’s just one game. We just need to be more confident shooters.”
The Lakers got their only back-to-back-to-back series of games out of the way immediately, although they still won’t even get consecutive days off until mid-January. When the New York Knicks visit Staples Center on Thursday night, Los Angeles still will be without starting center Andrew Bynum, who will finish his four-game suspension for misbehavior in last spring’s playoffs.
The Lakers already are hurting this season, with Bryant nursing a torn ligament in his right wrist and Gasol wearing extra support for his sprained right shoulder. Veteran Matt Barnes, who’s dealing with bursitis in his left hip, didn’t play for the second time in three games despite a loud fan chant for him in the fourth quarter.
Millsap came off the Utah bench, playing through tendinitis in his right quadriceps that nearly kept him out of uniform. Jazz newcomer Josh Howard had 10 points in 24 minutes.
Notes: Corbin waited until right before game time to rule in Millsap, the Jazz’s sturdy power forward. Millsap was a reserve for most of his first four NBA seasons, but started all 76 games in which he appeared last season. … Lakers F Troy Murphy fouled out in 32 scoreless minutes, but he also had 11 rebounds and four assists. … Utah plays five games in the next seven days, including a one-day trip to San Antonio. The Lakers have four games in the next seven days.