You know that story going around Los Angeles about the Utah Jazz being too old to play the game? It's the one about Karl Malone, John Stockton and Co. being fitted for hearing aids and wheelchairs paid for by their Social Security checks once the Western Conference Finals end - probably in four games?
It seems the Lakers bought into it. Hook, line and sinker.Kobe Bryant, the youngest and brashest member of the youngest and brashest team in the NBA, admitted as much after the Jazz handed the Lakers an embarrassing 112-77 loss Saturday afternoon in the Delta Center.
"We didn't expect such a veteran team to come out with so much energy at the beginning of the game," said Bryant.
When Bryant, who is still more than a year away from legally buying a beer, says "veteran," everyone knows he really means "old."
Oh, the folly of youth. The old guys are up 1-0 in the best-of-7 series. Game 2 will be Monday night in the Delta Center beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The Jazz not only came out with more energy at the beginning of the game, as Bryant duly noted, but they had more energy in the middle and at the end, too. The Lakers - the hottest team in the NBA - were reduced to cheap shots and whining in the final three quarters.
Del Harris, the coach of the Lakers, got a head start on the whining midweek when he complained about Karl Malone's supposedly new tactic, best described as a "karate shot." Harris said after the game that his team never lost its composure despite the thorough beating.
Statistics from the game and player comments afterward seem to indicate otherwise, however. The Lakers kept their composure enough to make 58.7 percent of their 46 free throws. They were so composed that they were nailed for two technicals and a pair of flagrant fouls.
And they were so composed that they were issuing warnings of impending physical violence.
"I'm just going to start flaring my elbows," said Shaquille O'Neal. "I just hope that a couple of people don't get their noses broken. I'll just be throwing elbows, 'cause they're coming up now."
At least it's good to see that Harris has his team under control.
The Jazz, meanwhile, were more politically correct in their comments, praising their opponents and saying it was just one of those nights. Perhaps befitting their advanced age, they were almost statesmanlike.
"In this business you have to stay on an even keel all the time," said Karl Malone, who led the Jazz with 29 points and 10 boards. "Don't get too high when you win and don't get too low when you lose."
"I don't think that this game is any indication of what we have to look forward to," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "We know who we are playing against."
The next game will, no doubt, be different. The 35-point loss was the worst in franchise history for the Lakers. Utah can't expect to hold O'Neal scoreless in the first quarter again. The Jazz can't expect to be up by 25 points before O'Neal scores his third point. The odds are long that the Lakers will score only 25 points in two quarters combined (the first and fourth). And who would have dreamed that Howard Eisley and Chris Morris would outscore the Lakers 20-3 during one 41/2-minute stretch of the first half?
But for one afternoon all those things were fact.
The game lacked suspense - not that the deafening Delta Center crowd felt gypped or wanted its money back. Greg Foster blocked an O'Neal shot and scored the first four points to send the crowd into a frenzy, and it was pretty much over.
Utah led by 11 points before the Lakers scored their second bucket. Eisley, who had struggled with his shot throughout the playoffs, made his first five shots and six of seven by halftime for 14 points. Morris, who was forced into action after Bryon Russell picked up a pair of early fouls, bombed a couple of three-pointers and had 10 points at the break. The Jazz led by as many as 30 in the second quarter, but had to settle for a 26-point bulge at intermission, 61-35.
"It wasn't pretty, folks," said Harris. It was "a bad combination with one team playing great and one team playing lousy."
Or a good combination, depending on your perspective.
The only suspense in the second half was whether or not Nick Van Exel would get tossed. He had a technical foul and a flagrant foul barely two minutes apart late in the third quarter but managed to stay clean the rest of the way.
O'Neal finished with a team-high 19 points, but was a subpar 6-for-16 from the field. He also missed nine free throws.
"I just tried to play position," said Foster. "More than anything I did out there, I think (O'Neal) just missed some shots he normally makes."
Rick Fox was the only Laker to have a good shooting night. He was 5-for-9 from the floor for 15 points. Bryant added 16 points but was only 4-for-14 from the field.
Seven Jazz players scored double figures. John Stockton, who sat out the entire fourth quarter, had nine points and nine assists. Utah shot 53.8 percent as a team and made 3-of-4 treys. The Jazz dished out 19 more assists (31-12) and pulled down 12 more boards.
Still, Sloan was not completely satisfied.
"I guess we're all greedy and we want everything," he admitted.
The Jazz know the series is far from over. They realize they had a similarly poor game in San Antonio and still won the series, 4-1. They know that the Lakers lost the series opener to Seattle and came back to win four straight.
But Utah has won the last six playoff series in which it won the first game.
"We expect a tougher game on Monday," said Eisley, echoing the thoughts of all involved.
"We'll look at films, lick our wounds, see if we can't defend the pick-and-roll better and come back for Game 2," said Harris. "That's why they call this a series. If this was high school, we'd be out."
The fight is far from over, but Round 1 was a decisive victory for the old guys.
Game 1 Los Angeles
Sat. at UTAH
TV TIME: NBC, 1:30 p.m.
Game 2 Los Angeles
Monday at UTAH
TV TIME: TNT, KJZZ, 6:30 p.m.
Game 3 UTAH at
May 22 Los Angeles
TV TIME: TNT, KJZZ, 8:00 p.m.
Game 4 UTAH at
May 24 Los Angeles
TV TIME: NBC, 1:30 p.m.
Game 5 Los Angeles
May 26 at UTAH
TV TIME: NBC, 7:00 p.m.
Game 6 UTAH at
May 29 Los Angeles
TV TIME: To be announced
Game 7 Los Angeles
May 31 at UTAH
TV TIME: To be announced