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NBA PLAYOFFS : LAKERS VS. JAZZ: GAME 4

Sweep Inducing

Lakers finish job, authoritatively, routing Jazz to reach West finals

Gasol scores 33, Bryant 32, and L.A. can rest up for Suns

May 11, 2010|Mike Bresnahan

SALT LAKE CITY — Kobe Bryant was done for the night, checking out with a handful of seconds left and congratulating each teammate with a high five while walking to the end of the bench.

Then he came to Pau Gasol and raised his eyebrows in admiration. Bryant pointed at him, smiled and embraced him for several seconds.

The Lakers advanced in no small part because of Bryant and Gasol, their one-two punch knocking back the Utah Jazz for good, 111-96, Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the Lakers sweeping the Western Conference semifinals, four games to none.

Gasol had 33 points and 14 rebounds, Kobe Bryant had 32 points, and the conference finals begin next Monday against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center.

The Lakers took the season series from Phoenix, 3-1, their three victories against the Suns coming by a breezy average of 15 points.

Phoenix closed out its semifinal series with a Game 4 victory on the road, as did Orlando, so the Lakers didn't want to get left behind.

They have now won six consecutive games, this one turning into the franchise's 13th sweep in a best-of-seven series.

"We had one of our better games tonight," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, and it was barely more than two weeks ago that the Lakers were deadlocked with Oklahoma City, two games each.

This one had a bizarre feel to it almost from the start. There were empty seats in the lower bowl, a shocker for a Jazz playoff game, and there were many more Lakers fans for Game 4 than Game 3.

There was even a relatively audible "Let's go Lakers" chant at the end of the third quarter and, more telling, a "Sweep" chant in the final minutes, surely the first of its kind for an opposing team in these parts.

How one-sided was it? Gasol studied the court and attempted a three-point shot midway through the second quarter. Why not? The Lakers were ahead, 45-30.

They have become automatic closers on the road over the last two playoff seasons, winning their fourth consecutive elimination game away from Staples Center -- first round this season against Oklahoma City, NBA Finals last season against Orlando, conference finals last season against Denver.

One Jazz fan held up a "Jazz in 7!" sign, the definition of wishful thinking in Utah. Neither Deron Williams nor Carlos Boozer shot well, making only 11 of 29 combined attempts, and Utah was swept in a best-of-seven series for the first time in team history. Boozer had 10 points before fouling out.

"It's so easy to take your eye off the prize and it's very important that you don't," Jackson said beforehand.

The Lakers didn't, other than a few blinks in the third quarter, the Jazz opening with an 18-7 run and then closing to within 68-63 with 3:59 left in the quarter.

But Gasol followed up Bryant's miss with two seconds left in the third, the Lakers took an 80-67 lead into the fourth and Utah never threatened again.

Gasol continued to excel in the playoffs, scoring 17 first-half points on seven-of-nine shooting as the Lakers led by as many as 22.

"He's playing hard," Bryant said. "He gets beat up a lot. After games, he's got scratch marks all over. He's playing at a high level."

Maybe Gasol has finally shed the "soft" tag that followed him for a while after the Lakers got drilled by Boston two years ago in the NBA Finals.

It bothered Gasol, undoubtedly.

"Of course it bugged him," Bryant said, "because we reminded him of it every day."

Gasol is now averaging 20.2 points and 13.1 rebounds through two rounds of playoffs. He made 12 of 18 shots in Game 4.

"I'm happy with the way I'm playing," Gasol said. "I think we're doing a real good job collectively. That's something that is really satisfying."

The Lakers are 8-2 in the postseason. They have plenty of time before the conference finals begin. They won't be on the road again for another 12 days.

The push for a 16th NBA championship continues next Monday.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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