NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Friday, April 2nd (All times eastern)
Utah Jazz (50-26) at Los Angeles Lakers (54-21), 10:30 p.m.
(Sports Network) - Two of the top teams in the Western Conference square off tonight as the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers aim to continue their dominance over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
The Lakers lead the West by 4 1/2 games over both Utah and Dallas with just seven games to go in the regular season, and usually own the Jazz in LA.
Phil Jackson's club has won 13 straight against Utah in Hollywood, a streak dating back to Jan. 1, 2006. The string includes six postseason victories over the past two seasons.
Los Angeles is coming off a rather pedestrian road trip, however, in which they finished just 2-3 after falling in Atlanta, 108-92, on Wednesday. Joe Johnson paced a Hawks attack that started strong and never let up by scoring 25 points.
Los Angeles had a chance to clinch the Pacific Division with a win and a Phoenix loss, but did not satisfy its end of the scenario despite Kobe Bryant's 28 points. Pau Gasol added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Ron Artest donated 15 points for the Lakers, who were without Andrew Bynum for the sixth straight contest due to a nagging Achilles injury.
"It was a tough one (road trip)," said Bryant. "We are not playing well defensively. This trip was pretty consistently bad. We have to get back to work."
The Lakers have another chance to clinch their third straight Pacific crown with a win tonight coupled with a Phoenix loss against Detroit.
The Jazz, meanwhile, keep on rolling and are a Western Conference-best 31-9 since January 8. Most recently, Deron Williams dished out a season-high 19 assists as the Jazz routed the Golden State Warriors, 128-104, Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
Williams also finished with eight points and missed his career single-game assists record by two as the Jazz won their third straight contest. His 19 assists were six more than Golden State's entire roster.
"I couldn't throw it in the ocean, so I decided to pass," Williams said. "We made a concentrated effort to play better defense. We've gotten away from playing our defense the last week or so, and we need to get back to that (level) with these games coming up against playoff teams. We're playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Carlos Boozer added 25 points and 13 boards and Mehmet Okur chipped in 18 and 10 for Utah, which has already clinched its fourth straight postseason berth and is now trying to lock down the Northwest Division. The Jazz lead Denver by one game, Oklahoma City by three and Portland by four with just six games to go.
04/02 11:19:26 ET