There are home-court advantages in the NBA, and then there is Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City.
The place is noisy, with a loyal fan base, and many of the more than 19,000 cramped along the sideline and baseline, making it nearly impossible for opposing players to hear one another. The arena resembles a college gym, and this usually helps the Utah Jazz.
Then again, the Lakers are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, have the deepest bench, and also have arguably the best player in the league in Kobe Bryant. All of these were at work, as the Lakers split two first-round games, and now lead the best-of-seven series, three-games-to-one.
Last Saturday night, the Lakers used a 40-point second quarter, and subdued the Jazz, 108-94, behind Bryant, who finished with a game-high 38 points, while hitting 16-of-24 shots.
Only two nights earlier, Bryant sank a miserable five-of-24 attempts and scored 18 points, as Utah turned away the Lakers, 88-86, in Game 3, with point guard Deron Williams connecting on the game-winner with less than three seconds remaining.
The Jazz out-rebounded the Lakers, 55-40, with power forward Carlos Boozer collecting 22 boards, and tying Jazz legend Karl Malone for the all-time mark. The Lakers turned the tables in Game 4, grabbing 46 caroms to 39 for Utah.
Intent on being aggressive, Bryant tallied 13 points in the opening quarter, and added 11 points during the second quarter, as the Lakers sailed to a 60-53 lead at the intermission.
The Lakers, who took Game 2 at the Staples Center, 119-109, as Bryant dropped in 26 points, Pau Gasol 22, and Lamar Odom 19, jumped to a 75-64 lead with 5:54 left in the third quarter, and were ahead, 88-69, after the third quarter.
Slightly more than four minutes into the fourth quarter, the Lakers were in command, 94-74, before Utah made a late run, trimming the lead to 105-90.
Lakers power forward Odom started Game 4, after a poor outing in Game 3 by youthful center Andrew Bynum, who scored four points with two rebounds, in only seven minutes.
Odom, who tallied 21 points with 14 rebounds in Game 3, was a difference maker Saturday, pulling down 15 rebounds, scoring 10 points, with two blocked shots, while center Gasol, who tallied 20 points and nine rebounds on Thursday, scored 13 points and took 10 rebounds in Game 4.
Starting point guard Derek Fisher dropped in 12 points and dished off four assists, and reserve point guard Shannon Brown added 10 points, while small forward Luke Walton and shooting guard Sasha Vujacic each poured in nine points off the bench.
The Jazz continued where they left off in Game 3, running out to a 14-9 lead with 5:58 left in the first quarter, and took a 21-17 advantage with 1:44 showing. Utah led after the first quarter, 25-20.
In the second quarter, the Lakers played like they’re the best team in the West, out-scoring the Jazz, 40-28. There was one rough spot at the close of the quarter, which made Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson furious.
This was the second consecutive game in which the club ended the half with a sub-par effort. In Game 3, this came back to bite the Lakers, but not on Saturday.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.