A recent win over a Western Conference power kept the Los Angeles Lakers on a roll. The Utah Jazz sure hope the one they just got can start one.
With Kobe Bryant still tormenting opposing defenses and Andrew Bynum emerging, the Lakers have been building confidence and could further do so Friday by knocking off a Jazz team coming off arguably its most impressive win.
A season after qualifying for the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the West, Los Angeles (18-10) has won nine of its last 11 games to move into a tie with New Orleans for the conference's fourth-best record.
The Lakers celebrated Christmas with a victory over the team it's chasing for first place in the Pacific Division, beating Phoenix 122-115.
It was their third straight win and second in as many meetings this season with the Suns, who have ousted Los Angeles in first-round playoff series the last two years. The Lakers have also won nine out of their last 11 games.
"We're getting better. It's just about getting better each day," said Bryant, who scored 26 of his 38 points in the second half. "It's good to have games like this. We have a solid foundation, we really do."
Bryant is the biggest part of that foundation and has been particularly good in the past two games, combining for 87 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists.
The 20-year-old Bynum has developed into an integral piece as well. He is averaging 17.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks over the last seven games while shooting 73.6 percent from the field.
"The best thing about it is he's put in so much work over the summer and now," Bryant said. "The biggest thing for him is he's seeing results. The sky's the limit for him."
Bynum is second in the league in field-goal shooting at 62.5 percent. He has five double-doubles in that span and 15 for the season to rank among the league's top 10.
So does Utah's Carlos Boozer with 22, and he would have eight in a row coming into this matchup if he didn't come up one rebound shy in two of his last three games. He had 21 points, including six of the Jazz's final seven, and nine boards on Wednesday in a 99-90 victory over Dallas.
While the Mavericks entered the game tied for the second-best record in the West after finishing with the league's best record last season, the Jazz are a disappointing ninth overall in the West after reaching the conference finals last season.
"It's a big win for us," Boozer said. "It feels good to be on the other side. We beat a very good team and held our composure at the end for a change. We executed our plays and finished strong."
It was only the third win in 12 games for Utah, which blew fourth-quarter leads in each of its last five defeats.
"We closed out a ballgame for a change," said Utah's Deron Williams, who had 17 points and 12 assists. "We have always felt like we are one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but we haven't been playing that way. Tonight is a move in the right direction."
The Jazz, though, have lost eight of nine on the road, and are facing a Lakers team which has won four straight at home.
Utah has won just two of its last 13 road games versus Los Angeles, including a 119-109 defeat on Nov. 4 in the only matchup at Staples Center this season. The Jazz, though, routed the Lakers 120-96 on Nov. 30 in the most recent meeting behind Williams' 35 points.
Despite that win, the Jazz are only 2-5 when Williams scores at least 25 points. The Lakers, meanwhile, are 9-2 when Bryant scores at least 30.
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