LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Just when it appeared the Los Angeles Lakers
might be in trouble, they rolled to one of their most impressive wins of the season.
The Utah Jazz trimmed an 18-point deficit to six in the first seven minutes of the third quarter, and Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal picked up his second technical foul, which calls for
The Lakers responded by outscoring the Jazz 44-18 after that for
a 112-82 victory.
"I think we just executed our game plan, it wasn't anything
that was extremely emotional," said Kobe Bryant, who scored 12 of his 22 points in the first 8:18 after O'Neal got the boot. "We
just got after guys defensively."
The Lakers led 68-62 when O'Neal was called for throwing an
elbow at Utah rookie Jarron Collins while going for a rebound.
O'Neal didn't stay around to give his version of what happened,
but Lakers coach Phil Jackson said it was a "terrible call."
"There wasn't anything that was with malice or anything that
was needful of that," Jackson added, referring to the technical
foul and subsequent ejection.
Collins said he believed O'Neal got frustrated "and our arms got tangled up and he just tried to get me off of him."
O'Neal had 22 points in 25 minutes before being kicked out. The Lakers outscored the Jazz 19-8 to finish the third quarter and 11-0 to start the fourth for a 98-70 lead.
Bryant left the game for good with 7:41 left.
"We really had to step our game up, we were capable of doing that," Jackson said. "I was very impressed."
By winning, the Lakers (55-23) remained in the Pacific Division
race, albeit barely. They trail the surging Sacramento Kings, who beat Minnesota for their ninth straight victory, by 3½ games. The
Lakers have four games left, the Kings five.
But as Jackson indicated, the two-time defending champions seem to be getting playoff-ready. The same can't be said about the Jazz (42-36), who clinched a playoff berth Monday night.
"We looked like a team that didn't even like playing
basketball," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan, whose team lost for the
fourth time in five games. "They just blitzed us every way they
"You've got to keep a team on defense a little bit and we came
down and fired shots up. You can't do that against a team this
good, even without Shaq."
Bryant scored a basket as the third quarter ended and the first six points of the final period before Devean George tallied five more.
The Jazz went nearly six minutes without a point before DeShawn
Stevenson made a jumper with 6:55 remaining.
O'Neal was ejected for the third time this season and first since throwing a punch at Chicago's Brad Miller in the fourth quarter of a game Jan. 12, which resulted in a three-game suspension for the Lakers' star.
O'Neal picked up his first technical foul earlier in the third period.
"Normally when a star player gets kicked out the other guys
pick things up," Malone said. "I have played long enough to know
that. Unfortunately, that has been typical of the whole year."
The Lakers led 57-39 in the opening minute of the third quarter
before the Jazz went on a 23-11 run to draw within six. That's when
O'Neal got booted and the Lakers got going.
Collins made three baskets, and Bryon Russell hit a three-pointer as the Jazz outscored the Lakers 9-2 for an early
But Fisher scored nine points on two 3-pointers and a three-point play and Bryant added six as the Lakers outscored the
Jazz 19-5 to finish the first quarter for a 27-20 lead. It was 55-39 at halftime.
The game marked the return of Lakers broadcaster Chick
Hearn, calling play-by-play for the first time since Dec. 16. He
underwent open-heart surgery three days later, and his return was
delayed after he broke his left hip Feb. 17. ... The 85-year-old
Hearn had broadcast 3,338 consecutive Lakers games dating back to
1965 before his operations. Paul Sunderland worked 56 games in his
absence. ... The Lakers have won 12 straight home games to make
them 31-7 -- the third-best home record in the NBA behind Sacramento
and New Jersey. They play three of their last four regular-season
games at Staples Center. ... The Lakers were 3-1 against the Jazz,
who are 23-25 against Western Conference teams and 3-14 against the
conference's top five teams.