SALT LAKE CITY — It isn't even Valentine's Day yet, so it's much too early to enter panic mode after a couple of losses.
But the Utah Jazz picked up a quasi-must-win game for this time of the season Saturday.
All the better that it came against the Los Angeles Lakers.
"It's big," Jazz power forward Derrick Favors said of Utah's 96-87 win over Kobe Bryant and crew. "We are getting ready to go to the East Coast — a lot of road games — so we definitely needed this win."
The team that Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said wants to be "special" sure played like it, and especially in crunch time when Utah used a 14-0 fourth-quarter run to frustrate and finish off the Lakers.
Good timing, too, with games in New York and Indiana on Monday and Tuesday and five of the next six on the road.
"It's a big deal for us. It's a momentum swing for us," Jazz power forward Paul Millsap said. "Hopefully, we can use this to get on the road and get some wins. ... We're going to need it."
The Jazz needed and got contributions from just about everybody in this one — from the starters, to the backups, to the 19,642 fired-up fans who weren't sporting yellow at EnergySolutions Arena.
Gutsy backup Earl Watson toughed it out on a sprained ankle that he swears was helped by a mysterious, if not magical, laser treatment to provide some gut-check mojo.
Utah bigs Al Jefferson and Millsap (combined 34 points and 26 rebounds) held strong against the Lakers' powerful pair of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum (combined 45 points and 28 boards).
And the Jazz reserves — sparked by Watson's gutsy 11-assist, eight-point night — gave a big boost off the bench by outscoring the Lakers' subpar subs 49-12.
Energy and passion that was missing Thursday in the lopsided loss at Golden State — along with absent and injured backcourt players Watson, Devin Harris and Raja Bell — returned with audacity and ferocity when it mattered most against the Lakers.
"The emotion takes over and before you know it the lead starts to build," Watson said. The spunky guard then touched on the theme of the night, adding, "This was a big win for us. Our team played great. The young guys played well, and the starters came back in and closed it up."
Those fresh-faced contributors — particularly 20-year-old Favors (12 points, eight rebounds) and 19-year-old Enes Kanter (10 points, six boards) — were baby beasts on both ends.
They were also on the floor with Watson, C.J. Miles and Josh Howard for almost all of a decisive surge as the Jazz opened the quarter with a 16-1 run — banging bodies on one end, out-executing the Lakers on the other side and getting into L.A.'s heads — to turn a tied game into a timely victory.
"Those guys come in against Pau Gasol and Bynum, and they're throwing their bodies all around," Bell said. "They're beating them up and down the court.. That takes its toll. That wears people down. Then on top of it, you've got to guard them on the defensive end. That's a nice luxury to have."
From a physical and statistical standpoint, the Jazz out-everythinged the Lakers. Utah had more rebounds (50-42), assists (25-12), points in the paint (52-40), fast-break points (12-4), second-chance points (23-17), steals (6-3), blocks (6-4) and, well, you get the point.
"Utah was very physical defensively tonight with us," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "They kicked our behind on the glass. They were up on us in the halfcourt and you have got to give them credit because they way they were playing is the correct way to play the game of basketball."
Brown took some of the blame for the Lakers' loss, which came a night after a tough win in Denver.
L.A.'s new bench boss was ejected during the Jazz's decisive fourth-quarter spurt after Watson stole the ball from Gasol and fed Favors for a big dunk.
Moments later, Watson lobbed a perfect pass for a Miles slam, giving Utah an 11-point lead and making the home crowd explode. Howard added a free throw following another technical on the L.A. bench to put Utah up 80-68.
Everybody played well, but nobody deserves more credit than Watson, who was in agony only three nights earlier when he sprained his left ankle.
"Man, Earl Watson isn't even supposed to be playing right now. That's the crazy thing about it," Millsap said. "You know, he's out there on one leg, having an amazing game for us. He's big for us."
Corbin, who wasn't sure if Watson could even play after he saw how swollen his left ankle was in the morning, kept his fierce 6-foot-1 competitor in for the entire fourth quarter. He was playing that well.
"That's just who he is. He's a true, true professional," Corbin said. "He's a tough guy that wants to be on the floor and help this team win, and we saw that tonight.4 comments on this story
"I knew he was in pain," Corbin added. "He has to be in pain from ... but he fought his way through it and I have tremendous respect for him."
Watson laughed when told that Corbin was surprised he was able to go after he saw his puffed-up ankle in the morning.
"I'm not going to give it all to you in the morning," Watson said, explaining why he took it easy at shootaround. "You're either going to get it in the morning or in the game. I knew I was going to play."
Considering the circumstances, the Jazz will take that every night.
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