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Lakers look homesick in Utah

Eleven-game winning streak ends as Kobe Bryant makes seven of 24 shots.

December 13, 2009|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant goes for a left-handed hook shot over Utah center Mehmet Okur in the first half Saturday night.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant goes for a left-handed hook shot over Utah center… (George Frey / EPA )

Reporting from Salt Lake City — So this is how the great road experiment begins for the Lakers.

Horribly unaccustomed to playing away from Staples Center this season, they looked like a team venturing into the deep, dark woods without a flashlight, compass and tent.

The Utah Jazz, the same team that scored only six points in the fourth quarter Wednesday against the Lakers, welcomed them to their first real run of road games with a 102-94 victory Saturday at Energy Solutions Arena.

The flight plan showed the Lakers to be 590 miles from home, but they looked to be 10 times that far.

Kobe Bryant had an upset stomach, needed to take intravenous fluids before the game and again at halftime, and shot poorly, making it hard to tell if he was bothered more by fatigue or the broken right index finger.

He had 16 points on woeful seven-for-24 shooting, including one for nine from three-point range. He also had six rebounds and five assists in almost 37 minutes.

Bryant didn't talk after the game, shaking his head when a Lakers publicist asked if he felt good enough to talk to reporters, but Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had a theory for the off night.

"I just think he didn't have a lot of energy," Jackson said. "He just wasn't right."

The Lakers saw their winning streak end at 11 games and were then treated to a mock version of "I Love L.A.," the scoreboard showing the Jazz mascot (a bear, of all things) jumping up and down to a song apparently called "We Beat L.A.!"

Beaten, for sure.

This had been one of the Lakers' few forays outside Staples Center, where they had been settling into the season with a comfortable 17 of their first 21 at home. Their imbalance in home and road games looked almost comical in the NBA standings -- 15-2 at home but only 3-1 on the road.

Better make that 3-2.

Pau Gasol had 20 rebounds for a second consecutive game, along with 16 points, and Ron Artest (16 points) showed some aggressiveness on offense, but the Lakers weren't strong defensively, allowing Deron Williams to chop through them for 21 points and 11 assists.

Bryant, who sustained the finger injury Friday against Minnesota, went to the shoot-around Saturday in Utah but got worse as the day progressed.

In one fourth-quarter sequence, he missed a shot, got the rebound, scored on a 16-footer and promptly leaned over, hands on knees, after getting fouled. He looked tired, a rarity for him.

Instead of taking a seat on the bench when he checked out for good, Bryant walked straight to the Lakers' locker room with 34.2 seconds left, the Lakers down, 101-91.

"He didn't look very well," Gasol said.

The Lakers shot 59% in the first half but still trailed, 59-53, because of 10 turnovers and the Jazz's well-oiled offense (17 assists on 23 first-half baskets).

The Jazz led after three quarters, 80-71, but then came the fourth quarter, where Utah ripped apart at the seams three days earlier.

This time, though, the Jazz did a little better than making two shots in the final 12 minutes. Utah was outscored by only a point, 23-22.

The game was pretty much over when Utah guard Ronnie Brewer scooped up a loose ball near the top of the key and threw up a successful 19-foot fadeaway before the shot clock expired, giving the Jazz a 92-77 lead with 5:33 to play.

The Lakers flew home after the game, planned to take today off, and were scheduled to fly out Monday for four more road games -- at Chicago, Milwaukee, New Jersey and Detroit.

All of them are winnable, certainly, but the effort will have to be better than Saturday's wander-through-the-motions affair.

Said Artest: "It was just one of those nights. I don't see this type of game happening from us again."

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