Kirilenko Leads Jazz Over Kobe-Less Lakers
Utah 90, L.A. Lakers 80
SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 3 (Ticker) -- For the second time in three days, the Utah Jazz made the most of their opportunities against the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers.
Mehmet Okur scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and rookie Deron Williams added 19 points to lead the Jazz to their season-high fifth consecutive victory, a 90-80 triumph over the Lakers.
"It's tough to play a team back-to-back," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "It doesn't make any difference what the circumstances are. It's always difficult. The Lakers didn't have Kobe Bryant and we know how tough it is to try to play against him. But still, those are tough games."
Needing others to supply an offensive boost, the Lakers were limited to just 35 second-half points. Devean George hit a pair of jumpers and Von Wafer and Kwame Brown each made a basket to bring the Lakers within 71-70 with 7:48 remaining.
But Utah answered down the stretch, going on an 18-5 run to take a commanding 14-point lead. Jazz guard Devin Brown scored four points and Okur had a pair of layups to widen the margin to 81-73 with 5:05 to go.
After Lamar Odom hit a hook shot for the Lakers, Williams scored seven consecutive points for the Jazz, starting with a 3-pointer and finishing with a layup to extend the margin to 89-75 with 2:09 left.
"We just played with a lot of energy," Williams said. "Our energy level stepped up. Our defensive intensity stepped up and we executed when we needed to."
"With them, it's hard to adjust without Kobe," Andrei Kirilenko said. "Of course without him, it's a little bit frustrating (for them). They did a great job without him, except in the last (part) of the fourth quarter."
While Okur and Williams provided the scoring for the Jazz, Kirilenko did the rest, chipping in 14 points - seven in the final period - with nine assists, eight rebounds, seven blocks and six steals for the Jazz, who are unbeaten since he returned to the lineup after missing three games with back spasms.
"Andrei makes a huge difference when he's out there," Sloan said. "Andrei was sensational with all the stuff he was able to do by getting his hands on the basketball."
"He was great tonight," Okur said. "He was everywhere on the court, blocking shots, getting rebounds, stealing the ball, scoring on the other end. He was unbelievable."
Kirilenko's had four of his seven blocks in the fourth quarter and came within one of a career high. His exploits helped the Jazz (16-16), who had a 39-28 rebounding edge, move into a first-place tie with Minnesota in the Northwest Division.
"It's a good feeling," Kirilenko said. "I feel like my teammates are playing better around me. Maybe six or seven games ago, we knew we were going to work hard, but we didn't feel like we'd win. But right now, when we're on the floor, I feel we're going to win, no matter what."
"We're improving both defensively and offensively," Okur said. "We're playing with a lot of energy. We were more active in the second half the last five games."
Odom made 10-of-17 shots and scored 25 points for the Lakers (15-16), who have lost two of three meetings with Utah and five straight overall.
The Lakers looked to be in control at the outset of the third quarter, holding the Jazz to just two baskets over the first five minutes of the period to open a 54-46 lead.
However, the Jazz quickly erased the deficit as Gordan Giricek and Kirilenko hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap an 8-0 run that tied the game.
"They lifted their level of play and we didn't match," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "The level of play and intensity picked up and that's when you've got to pick it up and we didn't do that."
The Lakers held the lead only once more the rest of the way as the Jazz made 10-of-19 shots in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't support each other defensively," Odom said. "We had a lead but let them do what they wanted to do, get the shots they wanted late. Without our best offensive player, we've got to play better defense. All twelve guys have to step up and we didn't do that."
A seven-time All-Star, Bryant trails only Philadelphia's Allen Iverson in the scoring race and is expected to return for Friday's home encounter with the 76ers.