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Lakers try to keep it quiet

They are expecting a hostile environment in Utah, but a quick start might discourage the fans.

May 09, 2008|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

So how do you prepare a team to play in EnergySolutions Arena, where the Utah Jazz was 37-4 in the regular season?

"Maybe gas masks for the motorcycle rider," said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, referring to the bear mascot who rolls around the Salt Lake City hardwood, revving his engine and the crowd.

Jackson was in a light mood after practice Thursday, and why not? His Lakers are up, 2-0, in their Western Conference semifinal series against the Jazz and they play Game 3 in Utah tonight.

Jackson admitted he used to take one serious measure for a game in Salt Lake City.

"I did wear ear plugs there one time," he said, "but the league has done something about the decibel level and I hope they hold true to that."

Most coaches believe the best way to quiet a vociferous crowd is to build an early lead, which can dishearten and silence the fans.

"I've always felt," said Jackson with a smile, "the best way is to sneak up on them and beat them at the end. I once had a team that had a 25-point lead in the first half and ended up losing the game."

Lakers forward Luke Walton loves the psychological lift of building an early lead in such a hostile environment, but he also knows the potential pitfalls. "When the crowd gets going you sometimes want to rush it and that can end up hurting the team. We've got to make sure we stay at our pace," he said.

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Historically, NBA teams down 0-2 in best-of-seven playoff series have won the series only 13 times. But this Jazz team performed the Houdini act last year, recoiling from that deficit to beat the Houston Rockets, with the capper coming in a Game 7 victory on the road.

"I think it will be a little different, just because we're at home, No. 1," Utah guard Deron Williams said Thursday at practice. "We just have to make a conscious effort to get off to a better start because that's basically what cost us both games. It was the second quarter in the first game and the first quarter in the last game."

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Kobe Bryant comes to Utah this weekend with the validation he has long sought by making the biggest leap of his high-flying career, from individual superstar to consummate team player. By winning the MVP trophy, Bryant has further altered his image.

It's fitting that his first road trip since getting the award should be to Salt Lake City because that is where his reputation first began to suffer.

It was 11 years ago Monday. Just like now, the Lakers were trying to beat the Jazz in a second-round series. But with the Lakers down 3-1 in games and tied in the final 14 seconds of regulation play in Game 5, Bryant, an 18-year-old rookie, found himself with his team's fate in his hands. He airballed a 14-footer and subsequently airballed three three-point attempts in an overtime loss that ended the Lakers' season.

Fairly or unfairly, the image of Bryant as a self-centered gunner had been formed.

"He shouldn't have been in that position," said Derek Fisher, a teammate of Bryant's then and now. "Asking him to make the shot was a tough thing to do.

"In the first round, we played Portland and he barely played. All of a sudden, in the Utah series, it was 'OK, now we need to see how this kid can play.' I just didn't think that was fair."

Bryant said his first postseason didn't hurt his confidence.

"Some players, when they go through something like that, it breaks them," he said. "They can't come back from it. I just looked at it as a challenge. . . .

"I had to tweak some things, but, by the next season, I was hitting my stride in the playoffs as opposed to having already peaked."

Bryant said the Utah experience wasn't unique.

"I had games in high school," he said, "where I missed a game-winner. You make some, you miss some. The only difference at this level was that, when people saw me on the street afterward, they said, 'Hey, nice airball.' "

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Bryant was the only unanimous choice for the All-NBA's first team, the league announced Thursday.

New Orleans guard Chris Paul, who finished second to Bryant in the MVP voting, was the other guard named to the first team. Boston forward Kevin Garnett, Cleveland forward LeBron James and Orlando center Dwight Howard completed the squad.

This is the sixth time Bryant, 29, has been selected to the All-NBA first team in his 12-year career.

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Times staff writer Jonathan Abrams contributed to this report.

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steve.springer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

All-NBA teams

Kobe Bryant made the All-NBA first team for the sixth time in his 12-year career. First-place votes are in parentheses.

*--* FIRST TEAM P Player, Team Points F Kevin Garnett, Boston (118) 612 F LeBron James, Cleveland (117) 610 C Dwight Howard, Orlando (86) 546 G Kobe Bryant, Lakers (127) 635 G Chris Paul, New Orleans (124) 629 SECOND TEAM F Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas (1) 189 F Tim Duncan, San Antonio (25) 397 C Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix (30) 412 G Steve Nash, Phoenix (2) 311 G Deron Williams, Utah 228 *--*

THIRD TEAM: Carlos Boozer, Utah; Paul Pierce, Boston; Yao Ming, Houston; Tracy McGrady, Houston; Manu Ginobili, San Antonio.

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