SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Rest up, Kobe. The Lakers are faring just fine without you.
Kobe Bryant(notes) sat out his third straight game and his teammates responded with their third consecutive win without their injured superstar, beating Utah 96-81 Wednesday night and ending the Jazz’s nine-game winning streak.
Pau Gasol(notes) had 22 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks and Jordan Farmar(notes) added 18 points for Los Angeles, which enters the All-Star break with the best record in the Western Conference at 41-13.
And the last three wins have come with Bryant resting his sore left ankle, which he aggravated last week. His status for the All-Star game Sunday remains uncertain, but the Lakers have shown that he can take his time recovering as they prepare to defend their NBA title.
“We’ve been playing good basketball recently. It was unfortunate that Kobe had to go out and Andrew as well,” Farmar said. “Everybody took it upon themselves to really play better basketball and play together.”
Gasol and Odom shut down the lane and forced the Jazz outside, disrupting Utah’s offense and playing more aggressively from the start. The Lakers broke open the game with a 12-0 run at the end of the first quarter and held a double-figure lead from early in the second period through the end.
The Jazz were coming off a win over the Clippers on Tuesday night in Los Angeles and never held after the late flight home.
“Where our energy was is beyond me,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “Our energy level was very, very low. Give them credit. They are a terrific team. That’s why they are the world champions.”
Carlos Boozer(notes) had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Andrei Kirilenko(notes) finished with 17 points, four blocks and five rebounds. Wesley Matthews(notes) added 13 points for the Jazz, who lost for the first time since Jan. 17.
“They had more energy than us tonight,” Williams said. “They played harder, competed harder and looked like they wanted the game more.”
The Lakers flustered Utah into outside shots that wouldn’t fall. The Jazz also hurt themselves with a dismal night at the foul line, going 13 for 25.
Utah made a short-lived run early in the fourth quarter, but could only get within 12 points before the Lakers ended their only cold stretch of the night.
The Lakers led by 19 at the end of the third and increased the lead to 20 before the fourth even began when Ronnie Price(notes) was called for a technical and Sasha Vujacic(notes) made the free throw to put the Lakers up 77-57. The Jazz tightened up defensively and used a 10-2 run to get back in it, holding the Lakers without a field goal until Farmar’s 3-pointer with 6:50 remaining put Los Angeles up 82-67.
Farmar’s shot got the Lakers rolling on a 9-2 run that pretty much sealed it.
“We finished strong,” Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. “We played well with the limited lineup that we had out there.”
The Lakers had been in control since the end of the first quarter. After the Jazz cut the lead to one point, the Lakers scored the next 12 and closed the period on Farmar’s 3-pointer that just beat the buzzer and gave Los Angeles a 31-18 lead.
NOTES: The Lakers are 2-1 against Utah this season. … Williams, Boozer, Odom and Bryant were named to the USA Basketball national team pool Wednesday. … Odom converted three three-point plays in the first quarter. … Odom and Vujacic had three steals each for the Lakers.