Reporting from Salt Lake City — Kobe Bryant sat in the locker room and watched the latest surprise in a revealing -- make that very revealing -- five days.
He was sidelined again by a sprained left ankle, but the Lakers didn't mourn. Andrew Bynum sat out because of a bruised hip, so everybody else pushed forward.
Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom carried the Lakers to a third consecutive victory without their leading scorer, a 96-81 exhibition in teamwork Wednesday over the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz had won nine consecutive games, but that ended amid a season-high 25 points from Odom. The Jazz had won 10 in a row at home, though it was in jeopardy from the start, the Lakers playing committed defense and finding each other on offense like few other times this season.
To recap their three games without Bryant: a grating nine-game losing streak finally ended in Portland, a hoarsely enthusiastic Staples Center crowd saw a determined victory over San Antonio, and a Utah team was dominated at home, where it had been 22-6.
Lakers followers were supposed to cringe at the final few games before the All-Star break without Bryant. Not so. The Lakers can enjoy a long weekend before reassembling for practice Monday afternoon.
Gasol had 22 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots. Jordan Farmar added 18 points, making all four of his three-point attempts. Odom had 11 rebounds and showed an aggressive punch from the start, finishing with four three-point plays the old-fashioned way.
The Jazz had never scored so few points at home against the Lakers, finishing below the 84 it scored in a November 1999 loss. Utah Coach Jerry Sloan sat open-mouthed, perhaps dumbfounded, as the fourth quarter began. Couldn't blame him. The Jazz trailed, 76-57.
In the game's final minute, Ron Artest walked past the Lakers' bench with a surprised yet satisfied look on his face.
"We proved with these three games that we're going to be OK," Gasol said. "It's been all about playing hard and playing together. It's been a beautiful thing. Every single guy out there has enjoyed the way we've been playing."
Bryant now has an important decision over the next few days.
Does he sit out Sunday's All-Star game? It would give him a total of 10 days' rest by the time the Lakers play again Tuesday against Golden State.
Bryant did not talk to reporters after the game, but Lakers Coach Phil Jackson spoke about the importance of the decision.
"I want him to do what's right for him," Jackson said. "If he's 100% and he feels like he's right to play, then play. If he's not, then he shouldn't play in the game."
There will be factors to consider.
"It'll be hard for him to sit out. There'll be a lot of pressure for him to play," Jackson said, a veiled reference to the NBA's interest in seeing Bryant play at Cowboys Stadium.
What, the NBA would be unhappy if Bryant watched from the bench?
"I'm sure they won't be happy about it, but obviously the proof is in the fact that he hasn't played in these games," Jackson said.
The Lakers (41-13) came to play, right away, assuming control with a 12-0 run to end the first quarter.
Odom converted three three-point plays in the first quarter, including one in which he drove from the free-throw line and dunked as he was fouled.
He even made 11 of 12 free-throw attempts, this from a guy shooting only 68.4% from the line coming into the game.
"I can play a little bit, right," Odom said, smiling. "I'm decent."
On another play, Gasol stole the ball from C.J. Miles, led a fastbreak and fed Shannon Brown for a dunk.
The Lakers had assists on 12 of their first 17 baskets on the way to a 42-26 lead.
The Jazz? Not so much.
There were boos in the third quarter after Mehmet Okur missed two free throws and fans began trickling out of the arena early in the fourth quarter. Utah never led.
Jackson smiled before he walked out of the locker room, one of many positive emotions emanating from the visiting team.
"They're confident," Jackson said. "They have an idea of what they are as an identity."