Commentary

Lakers open looking stronger than Jazz

West lines: Lakers not at best, but still good enough to take opening win over Utah

Originally Published: April 19, 2009
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

Matt HarpringNoah Graham/Getty ImagesJazz forward Matt Harpring clearly can't count on departed celebrities to break his fall.

LOS ANGELES -- The moment that symbolized the utter futility of what the Utah Jazz are trying to do against the Los Angeles Lakers came in the final minute of the game, when Utah's Matt Harpring, hustling until the very end, crashed into the pricy courtside seats at Staples Center in pursuit of a loose ball. Only there was no one in the chairs. The entire row of Hollywood and music-biz types had already cleared out, with the Lakers' eventual 113-100 victory already secured.

It might be asking too much of anyone to stick around for this series in its entirety, if it's not going to get any more contested than the opener. The Lakers led 62-40 at halftime and the closest it got after that was nine points in the fourth quarter.

The Lakers were more accurate, deeper, and of course, playing at home, the greatest disadvantage of all for the Jazz. And to a man, the Lakers didn't feel as if they gave it their best shot.

In some cases they didn't even take the shots. Kobe Bryant threw more passes than Peyton Manning in the first quarter. The other four starters plus backup guard Shannon Brown each took at least one shot before Kobe tried a jumper with four minutes to go. Bryant finally engaged for a stretch in the second quarter, toying with Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles, then shaking his head and making "he can't guard me" faces at Kanye West sitting courtside.

Kanye West
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillKanye West took in the sights and sounds of the Lakers' Game 1 win.

"That's my man," Bryant said. "I'm a huge fan."

On that note, here are the themes of the game, with cues from Kanye West song titles.

"Glory" -- When the Lakers traded Vladimir Radmanovic to the Charlotte Bobcats, it was simply a cost-saving measure. The only "name" they got back was Adam Morrison, famous from his days at Gonzaga, whose only significant NBA moment was going third in the 2006 NBA draft. Shannon Brown was considered a throw-in to make the salaries match. Yet here Brown was, the first Laker off the bench, coming in after starting guard Derek Fisher picked up his second personal foul 2½ minutes into the game.

And there was Bryant, not hesitating to go to Brown. "He's in the gym early, he's working on his shot," Bryant said. "When I see that it makes it even easier for me to trust him in a game situation."

Brown hit that 3-pointer off Bryant's pass -- and two more. He was effective on defense as well, and had a plus-minus of plus-20 on the afternoon. Even before Jordan Farmar suffered a foot injury that he's carried into the playoffs, Brown had moved his way past Farmar into the backup point guard role and is getting more run with the first-line players.

"I'm getting very comfortable," Brown said. "You practice and you go out there with Kobe, [Lamar Odom] and Pau [Gasol], that know what's going on, it makes it easy for you to know what's going on."

"Stronger" -- There was a bigger crowd of reporters around Brown than Andrew Bynum after the game, which was almost enough to make you forget this had been Bynum's first playoff start. It wasn't a great debut, with seven points and three rebounds in only 20 minutes restricted by what Bynum called "lame" fouls. Wearing the knee brace that will be a part of his uniform through the playoffs, Bynum appeared to lumber up and down the court at times.

"I think it's just the brace," Bynum said. "That's really what it is. I have to play in it for the time being. Some days it aches a little bit more than others."

And Bynum's debut made it easy to forget that the Lakers began this postseason with Trevor Ariza, who missed the start of the playoffs with an injury last year. Ariza put his stamp all over this game, making 8 of 10 field goals (3-of-4 from 3-point range). His 21 points were second on the Lakers only to Bryant's 24.

Bynum, Ariza, and Brown too, in addition to the standbys Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom?

As Ariza said, "You're going into a fight with all your guns."

"Bring Me Down" -- For a 13-point playoff victory, Lakers coach Phil Jackson wasn't impressed. He always writes the number of victories left to win a championship on the dry-erase board after the game, usually letting the number speak for itself. This time he wrote "15? Not like that."

The biggest complaint was offensive rebounding. The Jazz grabbed 20 of them and had a 24-10 advantage in second-chance points, the only decisive edge the Jazz had in any scoring category. That's the only thing that kept Utah in the game on a day in which the Jazz shot 39 percent.

To Odom, the worst part of the box score was the "Did Not Play -- Coach's Decision" next to Morrison's name, a sign the Lakers never turned this into a rout.

"I'd like to see Adam Morrison get in the game," Odom said. "I think this was a game we could have won by 25."

These were the particulars, as opposed to the complaints of Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who worried about his team's poor shooting, a hamstring injury to Mehmet Okur that might not get better by Game 2 on Tuesday night, and a Sloan-described lack of nastiness. To borrow another Kanye song title, "Welcome to Heartbreak."

J.A. Adande is an ESPN.com senior writer and the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." Click here to e-mail J.A.