SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Still weary after yet another loss in Los Angeles, the Utah Jazz knew Wednesday was last call for optimism.
The first-round playoff series against the Lakers returns to Utah on Thursday, a game which will either get the Jazz back in it or put the put the defending Western Conference champions on the verge of sweeping the best-of-7 series.
“The series is not over. They just did what they were supposed to do—win at home,” Utah point guard Deron Williams said. “Now we’ve got to do what we’re supposed to do.”
If the Jazz lose Game 3 on Thursday, anything they say about the series not being over yet will have a hollow ring. Through two games, the Lakers have shown depth well beyond reigning MVP Kobe Bryant while taking a 2-0 lead, pulling out to huge leads in both games and then dispatching the Jazz every time they rallied to make it close.
So far it’s been a rerun of last year’s second-round series, when the Lakers won the first two games and forced Utah to hold on at home.
The Jazz are in the same predicament almost a year later, needing home-court advantage and any other edge they can summon just to stay in the series.
“I think our fans will give us a lift there and give us a little boost, but they can’t run the floor for us,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
The Lakers are used to being the hated rival most everywhere they go and have not been rattled in the past by Utah’s home-court advantage. They clinched last year’s series with a 108-105 win in Game 6 here and were one of just four teams to win at Utah during the regular season in 2007-08.
“It’s just a challenge, being in a tough atmosphere where everybody’s pulling against you,” Bryant said. “The more they boo me, the more they heckle me, the more they relax me, the more I play better. You would think they would know that by now.”
Bryant and the Lakers had reason to be relaxed before boarding the flight to Utah on Wednesday as the Jazz plotted ways to avoid a 3-0 deficit.
Utah was still uncertain Wednesday about center Mehmet Okur, who missed the first two games with a strained right hamstring and will be a game-time decision Thursday.
Okur is Utah’s top 3-point threat and was second on the team in scoring in rebounds. The 6-foot-11 veteran would also be a welcome addition inside as the Jazz try to find some way to hamper Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, who all scored in double figures Tuesday night as the Lakers won 119-109.
The Lakers shot 86 percent in the first quarter Tuesday while scoring 41 and forced Utah into 20 turnovers in the game, leading to 34 points.
“We’ve got to handle the basketball,” Sloan said. “When you give them 34 points off of turnovers, where does that put you? You can talk about all the stuff you want, but you’ve got to handle the basketball.”
Utah also needs to play better defensively. The Lakers shot 58 percent in the first two games, led by Gasol going 16-for-22 with little resistance inside by the Jazz. Bryant has hit 17 of his 34 attempts, Trevor Ariza is 13-for-16 and Odom is 13-for-17.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Bynum, who missed 32 games because of a knee injury and didn’t return until the end of the regular season, didn’t practice much Wednesday because the knee brace was bothering him.
“I don’t think it’s anything the training staff thing thought was structural,” Jackson said. “I think it’s all capable of working itself out.”
The Jazz didn’t get back to Utah until about 3 a.m. Wednesday and were back for practice at 11 a.m., still a little stunned by what the Lakers did the night before in a 41-point first quarter. Bryant’s only field goal was a 3-pointer, leaving the scoring to his teammates.
“The guys that you don’t expect to get points, they’re they ones that’s giving you a rough time,” Sloan said. “They become a little bit more relaxed. The pressure is on people like Kobe Bryant. He takes a lot of pressure off everybody.”
Utah recovered after the scoring outburst and was within three points in the fourth quarter before the Lakers pulled away again and sealed it.
The Jazz couldn’t quite catch the Lakers despite shooting 50 percent and getting a playoff career high 35 points from Williams.
“We’ve got to have everybody clicking. we haven’t had a game where everybody was hitting,” said Williams, who also had nine assists Tuesday. “They’ve had all their guys making shots. We’ve got to have the same thing happen.”
Utah went 33-8 at home during the regular season, including a 113-109 win over the Lakers in February to start a 12-game winning streak.
But the Lakers had the best road record in the league, going 29-12 during the regular season.
“We have a terrific leader in Kobe who likes to play on the road and isn’t intimidated by it,” Jackson said. “With the kinds of games that happen on the road, we’re always capable of coming back into games because of that.”