- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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Going into Friday's game against the Jazz, the Lakers had three eight-game winning streaks this season. They started off the season 8-0 and then lost to Denver on the road. They won their first eight games after the All-Star break and then lost in Miami. They responded to the Heat loss with eight more wins, culminating with that 110-82 shellacking of Dallas on Thursday.
And then came Friday.
It was set up to be a trap game with the team canceling its morning shootaround while playing the second night of a back-to-back and dealing with the news that Matt Barnes was suspended.
And when L.A. fell down by 17 points in the second quarter, it sure felt like one of those "scheduled losses" as coach Phil Jackson likes to call them.
But the Lakers persevered, stayed the course and suddenly have their first nine-game winning streak of the season. Not only that, but they have won 17 out of 18 games and, thanks to a San Antonio loss to Houston, trail the Spurs by just 1 1/2 games for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference after being nine games back of the Spurs when Blake Griffin was jumping over a car to win the slam dunk contest.
Lamar Odom's resilience. "I feel like s---," Odom said before the game, his head resting against the side of his locker. Odom ate something funky during the day that just didn't sit right with him, and he arrived at EnergySolutions Arena with gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in full effect. It was so bad he had to make his way from the bench back to the locker room several times in the first quarter.
Well, in the same building as Michael Jordan's famous "Flu Game," Odom did a pretty good impression, finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds while hitting two dagger 3-pointers. If Odom edged ahead of Jason Terry in the sixth man race Thursday, he severely widened the gap Friday.
The bench in the second half. The bench was a disaster in the second quarter, as a group of Shannon Brown, Steve Blake and Luke Walton went 0-for-5 from the floor while Utah's bench had 13 points. Things changed after halftime, as Brown finished with six points, and Blake had four points, four rebounds and four assists.
The co-captains. Kobe Bryant scored 21 and walked off a knee-on-knee clash to stay in the game. Derek Fisher scored 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting. The two of them gave L.A. stability when its offense was stagnant. It reminded you of Game 3 of last year's Western Conference semifinals, when L.A. won a tough 111-110 battle to surge toward the series sweep. Bryant scored 35 that day to lead all scorers, but Fisher was vital in his own right, pouring in an unexpected 20 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
Andrew Bynum's free throws. As far as 7-footers go, Bynum has a pretty sweet-looking shot. Elbow in. Follow through. Economy of motion. But despite shooting 69.1 percent from the foul line for his career, he has his days when he looks downright Shaq-like. Bynum went 3-for-9 on freebies Friday. It might have had something to do with him matched up with Kyrylo Fesenko, making just his seventh career start, and wanting to dominate too much instead of relaxing. Despite the misses, Bynum finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Fesenko had four and eight.
Rebounding. It's the most simple stat associated with the Lakers' success, and L.A. was outrebounded 44-39 by the Jazz. Of course, it helped that the Lakers held Utah to 41.5 percent shooting so there were more misses for Utah to grab.
No Jerry Sloan. No Deron Williams. No playoffs for Utah. The loss officially eliminated the Jazz from the playoffs, meaning that for the first time since the Lakers went on this run following Pau Gasol's arrival, the Lakers won't be traveling to SLC in the postseason. End of an era.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Going into Friday's game against the Jazz, the Lakers had three eight-game winning streaks this season. They started off the season 8-0 and then lost to Denver on the road.