SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers may have learned something in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Don’t let the series go any longer than it has to.
The Lakers are a victory away from sweeping the Utah Jazz and want to lock up a third straight trip to the Western Conference finals as soon as possible. Game 4 is Monday night in Utah, where the Lakers edged the Jazz 111-110 on Saturday for a 3-0 series lead.
“You never know what can happen in a series. You extend a series, ankles can get turned, knuckles can get bruised, knowing there’s things like that …” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said Sunday.
The hypotheticals of bad things that could happen is long, something the Lakers learned when they took a 2-0 lead on Oklahoma City in the first round and needed six games to advance after the Thunder won two at home.
Bryant said the Lakers’ edge and attitude they had while winning the NBA title a year ago is back.
“We’re there. We’ve got it,” he said. “The competition from Oklahoma, probably. That’s probably what did it.”
The Jazz have pushed the Lakers in each of the first three games, but Los Angeles has held on to win all three by a total of 14 points. Saturday’s game was especially gut-wrenching for the Jazz, who had two shots bounce off the rim in the final seconds. Had either gone in, Utah would be looking to tie the series Monday instead of trying to avoid the team’s first sweep in a best-of-seven series.
“If we get the ball in the basket last night in the end of the ballgame it’s a different day,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “But that’s part of it. You learn how to deal with the good and bad in life. There’s always going to be both at different times.”
The Lakers have knocked the Jazz out of the last two playoffs, starting in 2008 with a 4-2 win in the second round. Last year it was 4-1, so 4-0 and a possible long break before the Western finals is sounding pretty good.
“They’re not going to quit,” said Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played one season in Utah three years ago. “If we don’t beat them they’ll just continue to take it one game at a time and try and work their way back in the series.”
Fisher hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28.6 seconds left on Saturday, giving the Lakers the lead for good, 109-108. He had been booed all night, as he has been in Utah since asking the Jazz to release him from his contract so he could move his family closer to a city where his 1-year-old daughter could get specialized treatment for a cancerous tumor in her eye.
He ended up signing as a free agent with the Lakers, which some Jazz fans won’t seem to forgive. The relentless boos and chants of “Fisher Sucks!” are not sitting well with Fisher’s teammates on the Lakers.
“That’s just bad people, doing stuff like that,” Bryant said. “Not about that. You don’t boo about that.”
Monday will be Utah fans’ last look at Fisher unless the Jazz can win two and bring the series back to Salt Lake City for a Game 6 on Friday. The Jazz need to survive Monday before considering what could happen after that.
The Jazz did what they wanted by limiting the Lakers’ size advantage, but it cost Utah when Bryant, Fisher and Ron Artest combined to hit 10 of the Lakers’ 13 3-pointers.
“Down the stretch, we made big shots. We’ve got guys that aren’t scared to take them,” Bryant said. “All across the board, guys will step up and they make them. That’s why we never really fret when it’s a five-point game or a two-point game with a couple minutes to go. ”
It’s also why the Jazz were still dismayed when they returned to practice Sunday morning, knowing they were inches away from being down only 2-1 instead of 3-0.
Deron Williams was just off on a shot from the top of the key that would have won it and Wesley Matthews’ tip on the rebound bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Matthews was still shaking his head as he thought about the play, which he said he had been doing most of the night. He said the mental replay was enough and he didn’t want to watch the actual video footage.
“I’m not going to watch the replay. I was looking at it. I saw it not go in one time and that was enough,” Matthews said.