LOS ANGELES — If Kobe Bryant frightens you, relax.

Knowing that he scored 38 points against them in their season opener, Bryant's absence tonight due to a severe right ankle sprain can be considered a potential woe averted for the Jazz.

A bigger Utah worry, however, resides in a stratosphere of its own.

The 13-26 Jazz can't beat a zone any more than they can beat an opponent away from the Delta Center lately.

As they take a seven-game, four-week-long road losing streak to their visit with the Los Angeles Lakers tonight, the memory of what happened Saturday vs. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers should not be far from Jazz minds.

Utah had a 19-point second-quarter lead, but the Cavs switched to a tight 2-3 zone for the second half and wound up winning by 13 as the Jazz shot 25.8 percent after the break en route to a season-low 71 points.

"We couldn't get into our zone offense," coach Jerry Sloan said Saturday night.

Sunday morning, the Jazz were like infomercial knives — slicing, dicing and dissecting everything they could, all in an effort to understand why.

Starting shooting guard Gordan Giricek took the psychological approach.

"I think we start thinking too much," he said.

"That's the biggest problem. It is for myself," Giricek added. "When I start to think too much, you start questioning yourself: 'Am I doing the right thing at the right time?' Then, you're not in the game anymore."

Starting small forward Matt Harpring took an affirmative spin, discussing what the Jazz must do in the future when opponents defend like the second-half Cavs.

"We have to take the first (good) shot available," he said. "That might come in the first five seconds of the 24-seconds clock, but that might end up being our best shot.

"We're so used to . . . not shooting early in the shot clock," Harpring added, "but, sometimes, against the zone, the best shot that you're going to receive is the shot that's at the beginning of the shot clock. That's something we could probably do better."

But that's not all.

"Maybe penetrate the zone," Harpring said. "I think we stand out there and just kind of pass it around.

"We've got to have someone who gets in there and drive-penetrates to create. Not just get in there and shoot, but get in there and try to pass to other people. I think that's how you beat a zone."

Beyond, that is, the basics.

"Technically," Harpring said, "we did what you're supposed to do to beat a zone. I mean, we did throw it in the middle. That's what they say against a zone: 'Throw it to the middle, and that collapses the zone.' "

Two problems there.

One was spacing, which a certain someone will address in a moment.

The other: simply hitting shots.

The Jazz, 45.7-percent shooters as a team going into Saturday's game, made just 8-of-31 from the floor in the second half — 4-of-15 (26.7 percent) in the third quarter, 4-of-16 (25 percent) in the fourth.

"They were begging us," Harpring said, "to shoot from the 3."

Not exactly the Jazz's forte.

Only seven other NBA teams had a lower 3-shooting percentage than Utah's 33.9 percent before Saturday. Only one, the Los Angeles Clippers, had fewer attempts than the Jazz's 322 from behind the line.

"You've got to make shots," Sloan said after the Jazz hit just 1-of-12 — Giricek had the only make — from trey land Saturday.

"I'd pack it in, too, and let you shoot it all day long," he added, "if you don't make outside shots."

Sloan, naturally, looks at the X's and O's.

He said he stuck with guard Howard Eisley hoping to get better penetration, ideally so Eisley could pass to an open shooter actually capable of converting.

This, though, is where improper positioning hindered the Jazz.

"Our big guys were not spaced out," Sloan said. "That's one of the things they have to do a better job of.

"(Eisley) was able to penetrate in a couple of times," the Jazz coach added, "but other people were all packed up in the middle."

Sloan also questioned Utah's shot selection.

He doesn't mind shooting early against the zone, but there's a caveat.

"We don't have a problem with that — if it's a good shot," Sloan said. "But just to put one up . . .

"Matt (Harpring) had one that was right in rhythm," he added. "You have to shoot shots when you're in rhythm. If you're standing around and not doing anything, it's hard to. . . . shoot the ball."

Disappointing Sloan further: Saturday was not the first time this season a team switched out of man-to-man, and the Jazz struggled.

"Practically everybody who plays in this league," he said, "plays a 2-3 zone, or very similar."

The Jazz often lose patience when they see one, and that flusters Sloan.

"We had some good shots, but we missed them," he said. "I can't do anything about that.

"When you miss them, and they start creeping up on you . . . you start looking backing over your shoulder, and you get into a tougher situation. You're shooting from a different perspective."

A thinking man's perspective.

In this case, that's not a good thing.

"It's just a matter of confidence," Giricek said, "and recognition of what to do.

"When you think, 'Should I shoot or not, is it the right time?' — I mean, we just have to take shots. And that's it. You can't think. You have to be relaxed."

And have no fear.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com