FROM SALT LAKE CITY — Two games into this postseason for the ages, we learned the Lakers could be dominating, devastating, even destined.
After Thursday night here, we learned they can be something else entirely.
Just as we marveled at how they can soar, we must now acknowledge how they can stink.
And man, in an 88-86 loss to the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of their first-round series, did they ever stink.
In the first half, they scored 39 points, shot 30%, and were outrebounded by 10.
And then it got worse?
Yes, and then it got worse.
After somehow running out to a 13-point lead in the third quarter against the overmatched Jazz, the Lakers then stood around in the fourth quarter long enough to blow the lead and hand over the game.
Blew it as Carlos Boozer drove past Pau Gasol for a slam dunk in the final minute.
Blew it again moments later when Deron Williams drove around Derek Fisher and hit a runner over Lamar Odom for the eventual game-winner moments later.
On the ensuing final-seconds possession, instead of going for a tie, Kobe Bryant tried to win the game with a three-point attempt that came with two problems.
First, at the time, he had hit just five of 23 shots.
Second, he took the shot from about 35 feet with Ronnie Brewer in his face.
No, of course it didn't fall, bouncing off the rim and backboard, Bryant's game-winning hand gesture looking silly as the Jazz danced around him.
In the end, supposedly basketball's best crunch team was outscored 37-22 in the final quarter-and-a-half.
In the end, the Lakers weren't just outplayed, they were embarrassed, and they weren't the only ones.
After Trevor Ariza's three-pointer in the middle of the third quarter gave the Lakers a 13-point lead, I made an announcement to anyone who would listen.
"It's over!" I declared.
Seeing as they nearly blew leads like that several times this year, and even earlier in this series, I should have known better.
But the Lakers can sucker you like that, can't they?
For the rest of this spring, I will not be suckered.
While the Lakers still lead the series two games to one, the Jazz have now been given that Game 7 energy.
"Now we're back in the series," said Carlos Boozer, who dominated the Lakers inside with 23 points and 22 rebounds. "Now we've got to come back with something on Saturday."
Remember when Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan proclaimed that his team had little chance to win this series?
"Bleak," he said.
Well, bleak just got a little better.
I still contend that, by June, this game will be remembered as a hiccup. But on Thursday night, that hiccup felt like a temblor.
"The key to the game was 86 points," said Boozer, noting the Lakers score.
Indeed, the Lakers shot only 37%, and nothing went as advertised.
This was going to be another step in Andrew Bynum's playoff rehab, right? When he missed much of practice Wednesday, it was only because of discomfort caused by his knee brace, remember?
Well, Bynum clumsily committed a dumb push foul on Boozer less than a minute into the game, committed his third foul early in the second quarter, and was rarely heard from again, ending with four points.
This was also going to be a third act of the Ariza show, right? Not so fast. He made three of nine shots and missed a couple of big late three-point attempts that he probably should not have taken.
And how about more of that Shannon Brown coming-out party? Not here. He played 10 minutes and scored once.
Of course, it begins and ends with Bryant, who was awful from the start, not scoring his first basket until late in the second quarter, and not able to take control in the end.
Really, there was no excuse for any of it.
This is the league's best road team? They didn't act like it. And in this environment, they should have acted like it.
This is not the NBA's toughest place to play anymore. This shouldn't have been that difficult.
The Lakers could have been intimidated by the snarling face on the Jazz billboard that sits above the street leading to their hotel.
Except that face was of, um, Kyle Korver.
Maybe they were intimidated by all the fans outside EnergySolutions Arena a couple of hours before the game.
Except most of them were dressed in Lakers gear.
Oh, wait, they must have been rattled by the sudden and prolonged standing ovation given by Jazz fans in the final minutes of the first half
Except it was for a sighting of former Jazz great John Stockton.
The Jazz lost eight games here this season. They apparently lost fans in the process, with empty seats visible throughout the arena Thursday. In the end, though, the fans standing and screaming filled the place.
Just like the Lakers fans back home, but for an entirely different reason.