SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—The Utah Jazz are hoping home court really is an advantage. Right now, they’ll take any edge they can get.
The Los Angeles Lakers lead the Jazz 2-0 in the Western Conference semifinals and are coming to Utah with thoughts of a second straight sweep in the playoffs.
The Jazz had hoped to come out of Los Angeles with a split, but were back home Thursday trying to figure out new ways to slow down league MVP Kobe Bryant and the Lakers while reviving their own sporadic offense.
The Lakers have shut down Utah’s attempts to get the pick-and-roll rolling and forced the Jazz into taking outside shots, which have not been falling. Utah has also rushed some attempts that led to either turnovers or missed shots that bounced right to the Lakers.
The offensive blunders have created easy baskets for Los Angeles, which pulled away to big leads and held off Utah’s pushes at the end of both games.
“We’ve got to stay disciplined. We’ve got to work harder to get open,” point guard Deron Williams said. “They’re trying to deny us and push us farther out than we want to, so we’re starting our offense from farther out and it’s disrupting us a little bit.”
Utah hosts Game 3 on Friday night and hopes playing at home can get the Jazz back in the series. Utah went 37-4 at home during the regular season, but the Lakers were one of the four winners, ending the Jazz’s 19-game home winning streak in March.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan said playing at home wouldn’t do much good if the Jazz don’t get back to running their offense.
“They’re going to defend us. They’re not going to drop off and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to defend you because we’re not in L.A.’ That’s what made them very good. They’re a very good defensive team,” Sloan said. “They have a tendency to slow us down and we start walking through what we’re doing.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said earlier this week that EnergySolutions Arena is one of the loudest places to play in the league and that the noise energizes the Jazz and intimidates the officials.
He coyly said Thursday before the team left for Utah that he had “amnesia” about the officials comment, but was still expecting a more intense version of the Jazz in Utah.
“They’re scrumming around. That’s much more decisive on their court,” Jackson said.
The Lakers have kept All-Star forward Carlos Boozer out of the series so far. Boozer was in foul trouble early in Los Angeles’ 120-110 win on Wednesday and finished with just 10 points and five rebounds. He averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds in the regular season.
Boozer is just 9-for-24 in the series, stuck outside the lane and missing the mid-range jump shots that went in during the regular season.
The Lakers have blocked 17 shots in the two games.
“Right now they’re packing the lane. That’s what I would if I was their team right now. Pack the lane and make us hit jump shots,” Boozer said. “We have to knock them down.”
Utah was in the same position last spring, when Houston won the first two games of the opening round and came to Utah with a 2-0 lead. The Jazz won twice at home to tie the series and ended up winning it in seven games.
Boozer said the Jazz need to win one before they can think about rallying again.
The Lakers, meanwhile, can afford to be much more relaxed. Los Angeles is 6-0 so far in the playoffs, beating the Nuggets twice in Denver to clinch the opening round series. Denver’s altitude is even higher than Salt Lake City’s 4,500 feet, so the Lakers aren’t worried much about the thin air.
“We obviously have an advantage. What we did was take care of our home court,” said Bryant, who is averaging 36 points in the two games. “Now we’ve got to try and stop them from taking care of their home court.”