The question is whether the Lakers will lose before reaching the conference finals (they will; Utah is too good a team at home not to take one game) and why the Jazz came out so flat looking early, after Kobe got his MVP statue. There were a lot of fouls called really early — most of them on Utah, as happens often — and when it puts Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur out for long stretches of the game, the Jazz were fortunate to not be down by 20 at any point during the game. The Lakers were operating at light-speed on offense, reacting to movement quickly and crisply. Kobe is a reliable 30, Pau and Lamar Odom got theirs, but watching Derek Fisher be able to drain shots in tough times shows how much he means to this team now. If the Jazz can take anything out of losing by 10, it’s that Paul Millsap kept them in the game in the 2nd, for stretches filling Boozer’s role.
Maybe I should go back on that “Orlando is toast” notion if Chauncey Billups can’t actually play. This was the Detroit game off, where some of their weaknesses come to the fore (mostly those of Rasheed Wallace on defense against Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis). The Pistons need Chauncey to guide them; without him, there goe stheir biggest advantage in the skill of their guards.
LeBron won’t shoot 2-for-18 again. Trouble for Cleveland is that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen won’t combine to go 2-for-18 again either. Who else gets to step up for the Cavs? I mean, when two of Boston’s Big Three are down, Rajon Rondo becomes a steady hand, Sam Cassell chips in 10 off the bench, and James Posey plays lockdown on defense. LeBron is going to have tap into that domination gear from last year’s Eastern Finals to even get his team back to that particular round, because it appears Kevin Garnett wants to prove that he can dominate and take his ball club to a win if he needs to.
Photo: AP/Mark J. Terrill