Even though he was sick to his stomach before the game, Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom needed just one glance around the locker room to get motivated to play anyway.
”Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol … are great, and they don’t miss games because they’re hurt or tired or sick,” Odom said. ”You learn from the greatness, and it rubs off on you.”
Odom scored 16 points off the bench to go along with Bryant’s 21, and the Lakers erased a 17-point, first-half deficit Friday night to beat Utah 96-85 and eliminate the Jazz from the playoff race.
Utah (36-40) becomes the first team in NBA history to start 15-5 and 27-13 and not make the playoffs.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have won nine straight and are within 1 1/2 games of first-place San Antonio in the Western Conference. If they win out, including beating the Spurs on April 12, they can claim the top seed in the West.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson wasn’t banking on it, even after seeing his team outscore the Jazz 52-35 in the second half following an emotional win Thursday night over Dallas. The Lakers are 17-1 since the All-Star break.
”We’ve played very well, (but) we can go out and have a stinker like we had in the first half and lose a ballgame,” Jackson said. ”We may not have that energy in the second half to come back and win, and it’s asking a lot of a team to continue at that pace. We want to do it and we have every urgency to do it, but the odds are against us. It’s still a real tough thing to do.”
The Jazz did their best to stop the streak despite starting their 17th different lineup and having only nine healthy players, including one who just joined the team two days earlier and was playing out of position.
With a big lineup that included 7-foot-1 Kyrylo Fesenko making only his third career start, and Al Jefferson moving to power forward and Paul Millsap to small forward, the Jazz started strong.
They jumped to a 26-13 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter following a dunk by C.J. Miles (24 points) off an alley-oop pass from Earl Watson, who had a few words for a Lakers fan seated courtside.
Utah increased its lead to 41-24 after an 11-0 run in the second quarter. Rookie Gordon Hayward had five points during the run, while forward Derrick Favors scored off a baseline drive and Paul Millsap added a putback dunk. Guard Kyle Weaver, called up from the NBA Development League on Wednesday, capped the run with a pair of free throws.
The Lakers finished the half on a 10-0 run of their own, including Bryant’s driving layup and free throws that pulled Los Angeles to 48-42 at halftime.
”Fesenko did a great job on (Andrew) Bynum,” Jackson said, noting the Jazz held a 30-10 advantage in the paint in the first half. ”He bodied him off his shot, blocked a couple of his shots. They really took it to us, but we did little bit better movement of the ball as the game went on.”
It was all Lakers in the second half.
Fisher (15 points) tied the score at 62-62 on a three-pointer with 4:06 left in the third quarter, and Shannon Brown gave them the lead for good when Fesenko was called for goaltending.
Jazz coach Ty Corbin, who was without starters Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell and Devin Harris, and reserve guard Ronnie Price, was disappointed that the Jazz postseason hopes officially ended.
”We can’t get in now, but we’ll continue to play hard, try and win ballgames and develop the guys,” said Corbin, who is 5-17 since taking over for Jerry Sloan after he retired Feb. 10. ”We’ve still got to create who we are. So, we got to continue to try to play right and try to see what number of wins we can get.”
Asked about making history with the colossal midseason collapse, Corbin shrugged.
”I don’t know how many teams have been through what we have since we started 15-5,” Corbin said of Sloan’s sudden retirement, the Deron Williams trade and injuries to so many key players. ”We’ve continued to fight.”
The game, in all likelihood, was the last in Salt Lake City for Jackson, who has said this will be his final season.
As Lakers coach, Jackson was just 10-12 in games played in Utah.
”This isn’t in my zone of comfort,” Jackson said before the game. ”I may just drive down here (from my ranch in Montana) and see a game sometime.”
Odom wouldn’t be surprised.
”He loves the game, (and) we all appreciate the atmosphere here,” Odom said.
NOTES: Jazz Hall of Famer John Stockton was at Friday night’s game with his family, apparently in town to see his son play in a basketball exhibition. … Al Jefferson (17 points) has started every game for the Jazz this season, but this was his first start at power forward. … Jackson was named Western Conference Coach of the Month on Friday and Bryant the Western Conference Player of the Month … Bryant went down hard twice once after getting tripped up by Miles and being fouled intentionally by Fesenko, but he continued to play… The Jazz outrebounded the Lakers 28-18 in the first half and limited them to 39.4 percent shooting….The Lakers were without forward Matt Barnes, who was suspended without pay after getting into a fight with Mavericks guard Jason Terry.