Back in mid-December the Lakers went to Utah and the Jazz snapped their 11-game winning streak. That night Bryant had flu-like symptoms and he probably shouldn't have played at all. He hit seven of 24 shots for, at that time, a season-low 16 points. This time Bryant sat for the third straight game and the Lakers snapped the Jazz's nine-game winning streak. Lakers held the Jazz to their lowest point total at home this season, winning 96-81.
The Jazz were playing the second of a back-to-back having played the Clippers in LA on Tuesday and they looked slow. The Lakers jumped on them right away and took a 31-18 lead after the first quarter. As great as the Lakers looked - and I'll get to that in a second - the Jazz beat themselves. They were seven of 19 from the free throw line before hitting their last six attempts and began 0-10 from three-point range before hitting two of their last three attempts. If they make just a few more free throws they would've kept the game close and that might have given them the motivation to make another push. As it was, their reserves made a slight push in the fourth quarter and cut it to 12 before the Lakers answered and ballooned the lead back up to 19.
Now onto how the Lakers put this beating on the Jazz. What did Pau Gasol say? Something about how the Lakers would be better if they passed it into the post more? Something about their big men being more effective? It was the Odom and Gasol show last night. Odom ran the floor and went aggressively to the rim and Gasol hit the shots he was just missing on Monday.
Gasol actually had a very similar stat line to his game on Monday. Against the Spurs he had 21 points, 19 rebounds, eight assists and five blocks. Against the Jazz he had 22 points, 19 rebounds, four assists and five blocks. But against the Jazz he scored 22 on five less shots.
How aggressive was Odom? He took just nine shot attempts and finished with a team-high 25 points. Now that's efficient. The usual 67 percent free throw shooter hit 11 of 12 from the line and also had 11 rebounds and three steals.
Who would've thought the Lakers would have this type of success with Bryant out of the lineup? They have won three in a row against teams all currently in the Western Conference playoff picture. And let's not forget Andrew Bynum has been out the past two and a half games.
Of course Gasol is going to step up with Bryant out but it's the annual mid-season emergence of Odom and Farmar coming up big off the bench that really fueled this mini-run heading into the All-Star break. Odom has scored in double-digits in eight of the past 10 and the 25 from last night was a season-high. In the past three games Farmar has hit 17 of 27 shots including seven of 10 from three-point range. He is quickly putting to rest any rumors of the Lakers going after Kirk Hinrich.And so the Lakers go into the break with a five game lead (pending the Nuggets game tonight) in the West and all is well in Lakerland. Well, almost. There's still that issue of Bynum's injury. Sure Kobe is injured but he'll be fine. This rest will do him good and he'll be ready to go next Tuesday when the Lakers resume. But Bynum is having pain walking and might need his knee drained. This is a serious concern and the term "injury-prone" begins to rear it's ugly head.