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Lakers still kryptonite to streaking Jazz team

Utah's Carlos Boozer and L.A.'s Pau Gasol get tangled as the Utah Jazz host the Los Angeles Lakers.
Utah's Carlos Boozer and L.A.'s Pau Gasol get tangled as the Utah Jazz host the Los Angeles Lakers.
Mike Terry, Deseret News


The Jazz may build bridges, climb mountains and sail oceans. They might even be able to turn back time and cure arthritis, for all we know.

But they'll still have that problem with no viable solution: the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Jazz's nine-game win streak screeched to a stop, Wednesday at ESA, compliments of you-know-what, playing without you-know-who.

Which raises an interesting thought: Could the Jazz beat the Lakers in the playoffs even if Kobe Bryant weren't around? Answer: Look at the box score. Following their 96-81 loss, the Jazz moved into the All-Star break with a fresh reminder that their old nemesis is still the town sheriff.

Nobody does anything unless the Lakers say so.

"They just kept putting it to us," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

The good news for the Jazz: Just one more game with L.A. the rest of the season.

What could have highlighted the hot streak the Jazz previously enjoyed? A win over the Los Angeles Lakers, naturally.

Nothing beats a beat-down of the Lakers.

But it wasn't to be. Which is normal.

So the Jazz enter the break at the end of the best streak of their season, having won 13 of the previous 14. They had to lose sometime, and who better suited to end it than Los Angeles? The Lakers ended the Jazz's season the last two years.

Truth is, the Jazz have been known to lose games to hurting teams. They lost once to Denver, even when the Nuggets were missing All-Stars Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups (though they did beat Denver last week under the same conditions). They have claimed one win in their three games with L.A. this year, a 102-94 decision in December, but in that game Bryant was playing with a newly broken finger and a stomach ailment.

This time it was a loss to L.A., minus Bryant and fellow starter Andrew Bynum.

Until Wednesday, the new and improved Jazz seemed to have replaced the weary and worn Jazz. They were doing everything right, passing superbly, scoring efficiently and, most of all, defending adeptly.

Then they came home late Tuesday after beating the Clippers in Los Angeles, but opened against the Lakers by allowing uncontested drives and dunks. They shot an embarrassing 13-25 from the line and 2-13 from 3-point range.

Sloan wasn't entertaining excuses about back-to-back games.

"There was plenty of time to get eight hours' sleep," he said.

Another concern for the Jazz is that despite their dashing January and rakish February, it's not all smooth sailing from here They have 31 games remaining, but 19 of those are on the road. They are just 10-12 away from ESA.

At the same time, they've cleared several of their toughest opponents off their day planners. They only play the Lakers once more, but they're done with Cleveland, Orlando and Denver. Just 12 games remain against teams that appear playoff bound.

The recent streak was wholly unexpected — at least by most reasonable assessments. About the time the calendar turned on 2010, the Jazz were looking terrible.

They didn't have chemistry, but they did have a chemical spill on their hands.

But then they set about flattening opponents like so much road kill.

This scenario has happened before, though. The Jazz have had runs, then come flaming back to earth. They won 12 straight last year in February but ended the year losing 11 of their final 19, barely nailing down the last playoff spot.

Thus, Wednesday, they lurched into the All-Star break with a loss. When the starting lineups were announced, the news couldn't have been better for the Jazz — or worse. The Lakers were without Bynum and Bryant.

Sure enough, here it came: fast breaks, uncontested layups, open 3s. It was obvious they were wobbling when they only made five of their first 13 free throws. Four minutes into the second half they were still just 7-19 from the stripe and 0-7 from 3-point land.

The Jazz got outscored 12-0 to end the first quarter, going from a one-point deficit to 13.

Say good-night, Johnny.

Now that they have a five-day break, the obvious question is which Jazz team will return? It might be the one that won 13 of 14, but this much seems clear: They still can't handle the Lakers, no matter how much momentum they build.