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Lakers meet their matchup in win

LAKERS 125, UTAH 112

April 15, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

The Lakers finally know who their first-round playoff opponents will be. In fact, the Lakers flattened them on Tuesday.

The Utah Jazz kept it close for a half but eventually wilted in a 125-112 loss at Staples Center that turned out to be a playoff preview.

The top-seeded Lakers (65-17) and eighth-seeded Jazz (48-34) will meet a best-of-seven first-round series. Game 1 is expected to be Sunday at Staples Center, but the league won't release the series schedule until tonight.

If Utah had won, it held tiebreakers against two other teams that could have been the Lakers' first-round opponents -- Dallas and New Orleans.

It didn't matter. The short-handed Jazz lost after sputtering in the second half.

Pau Gasol finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists, and the Lakers turned a one-point halftime edge into a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter.

It capped a stellar regular season for the Lakers, who will win the Western Conference by at least 10 games and finish with their most regular-season victories since logging 67 in 1999-2000.

About the only thing they didn't do was tie down home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, a privilege that went to Cleveland, though the Lakers will worry about that if they're still alive in June.

Meanwhile, they have Utah ahead of them.

The Lakers defeated the Jazz at Staples Center in January, 113-100, but lost at Utah in February, 113-109, amid a slew of layups and easy baskets.

The Lakers endured a physical, rough Western Conference semifinal series against the Jazz last season, winning in six games.

"They are a physical team, no doubt about it," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "I think it'd be good for us actually to play a physical team. That's what you have to play in the playoffs and they bring it every night."

Said forward Lamar Odom, who had 16 points Tuesday: "Their style of play, you could call it 'confrontational.' They're tough games over in Utah. I guess that's what we're looking forward to. We've got to prepare ourselves to play well on the road, take care of the ball and play physical."

Before the game, Jackson was asked if he was going to reduce the starters' minutes Tuesday night. His short answer: No.

"They need a good run and they need a workout," he said. "They've got a game on Sunday. That's still a long ways away. . . ."

What about fatigue?

"I don't think they're tired at all," he said. "We've kind of cut back on practices the last week as far as minutes out on the court. We'll pick it up a little bit this week."

Actually, Utah, not the Lakers, sat two of its starters Tuesday.

Center Mehmet Okur was sidelined because of a strained hamstring and guard-forward C.J. Miles sat out because of a dislocated finger that had already caused him to miss a handful of games.

Still, the Jazz kept it close in the first half, leading by eight before trailing at halftime, 56-55.

The Lakers eventually pulled away on the strength of a 13-2 run to start the fourth quarter that gave them a 104-85 lead.

Andrew Bynum had 22 points in 30 minutes and Sasha Vujacic had 15 points on six-for-eight shooting.

Jackson even referred to Utah's style as "three yards and a cloud of dust."

"It is about pounding the ball inside and getting interior passes and making people pay if they take short cuts," he said. "This team leads the league in layups or interior shots. From that standpoint, you have to be very aggressive to cover the basket defensively. We got busted the last time we were up in Utah with a lot of easy baskets."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Going 65

The Los Angeles Lakers have won 60 games 11 times. Each time they won 65+ games in a season, they went on to win the NBA championship:

1971-72

* Record: 69-13

* Defeated the New York Knicks

in the NBA Finals, 4-1

1999-2000

* Record: 67-15

* Defeated the Indiana Pacers

in the NBA Finals, 4-2

1986-87

* Record: 65-17

* Defeated the Boston Celtics

in the NBA Finals, 4-2

2008-09

* Record: 65-17

* The first round of the playoffs begins Saturday or Sunday at Staples Center against the Utah Jazz in a best-of-seven series.

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