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Lakers go for a rare sweep against Jazz, and a close-out would be special

Lakers have swept only 12 times in 99 best-of-seven playoff series in the franchise's 61-year history. A victory in Game 4 at Salt Lake City would make it 13, and earn the team some valuable downtime before the conference finals.

May 09, 2010|By Mike Bresnahan

Reporting from Salt Lake City — The Lakers have done plenty in their rich playoff history, winning 15 championships and appearing in 30 NBA Finals, results any franchise not named the Celtics would gladly accept.

But for all their parades and champagne-dousing moments, one thing they don't often do is sweep.

The Lakers are in position to do it Monday against Utah, holding a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals, one victory from only their 13th sweep in 100 best-of-seven series since their 1948-49 inception.

It would do wonders for their aches and pains, creating several days before their next game, and it would lead to the inevitable, quickly and quietly: No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday, if necessary. The Lakers hope it's not, even though it would mean a windfall of about $1.5 million for another home playoff game.

"You extend a series, ankles can get turned, muscles can get pulled, groins, things like that," Kobe Bryant said. "When you have the ability to put the nail in the coffin, it's imperative that you do it."

The Lakers are in one of three lopsided semifinal series, with Orlando holding a 3-0 lead over Atlanta, and Phoenix sweeping San Antonio, 4-0. Boston-Cleveland is the only tightly contested semifinal, deadlocked at two games each.

The Lakers are looking for their first sweep in nine playoff series, dating to a first-round ouster of Denver in 2008. They've never swept Utah in five previous playoff meetings.

If Game 3 was a gauge, Game 4 won't be easy.

The Lakers needed 20 points from Derek Fisher and 20 from Ron Artest, not to mention 35 points and seven assists from Bryant, to escape with a 111-110 victory after Utah missed two shots in the final few seconds.

The Jazz crowd went from shrill to silent, and there are tickets available online for Game 4 at face value. Plenty of them.

The Lakers couldn't care less if there's waning interest in Utah. After all, they've won five consecutive games.

"I feel like we're a much better team now than we were in the Oklahoma series," Bryant said.

Still, they would like to tighten a few areas.

Andrew Bynum can't do much worse offensively (scoreless on one shot in Game 3), and Lakers coaches are again squeamish at the number of three-point shots the team is taking.

The Lakers excelled from long range in Game 3, making 13 of 29 from beyond the arc, but they'll probably try to go inside in Game 4.

"Three-point shots are 'hero' shots — they're great shots if they're going in," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "But they'll get you [opponent's] fastbreak opportunities at the other end if they don't. There are opportunities to do better out there on the court."

The chance for more rest is as close as a victory Monday. Bryant was one of many Lakers who enjoyed the time off between Games 2 and 3.

"Those three days really did wonders for me," he said. "I don't think I'll ever be 100% [this season], but I'm going to keep getting better and maybe I'll get to about 90."

One last look

Bryant grinned when asked if he forgot to box out Wesley Matthews, allowing the Utah guard to get a follow shot that missed at the final buzzer in Game 3.

"Yeah, I did," he said. "I was waiting to see what [Deron] Williams was going to do. I figured I'd give Matthews an open jumper before I let Williams beat us."

Before that, there was the frenetic inbounds play from the side that began with Ron Artest throwing the ball to Derek Fisher, who appeared to be taken down by Matthews without a foul being called. The ball ended up in the hands of Jazz forward Kyle Korver with 4.4 seconds to play.

"With two 20-second timeouts left in the pocket, we really wanted to use care and caution with the ball in that situation," Jackson said. "Unfortunately, Fish went down on it and the pass went loose."

Vujacic getting close

Sasha Vujacic scrimmaged for the first time since suffering a severely sprained left ankle four weeks ago but is not expected to play in Game 4.

"We're up 3-0, so I'm not even going to consider that," he said. "We have good rotations right now, we're playing the right way and I don't want to force anything."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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