They run faster, jump higher and dunk with more authority. But summer for the Los Angeles Lakers will start within a couple of days. The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, will be playing for a couple more weeks.
The Western Conference finals aren't officially over.But everyone knows the series is done.
Laker reserve Corie Blount must feel silly about now. Just a week ago he was predicting a Lakers sweep on a national radio program. Now the Lakers are all but swept. Utah's 109-98 victory in the Forum Friday night gives the Jazz a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
How bad of a pickle are the Lakers in? Consider this: never in the 51-year history of the NBA has a team rallied to win after falling behind 0-3.
So as the Jazz prepare to finish up the series - probably either Sunday in the Forum or Tuesday at the Delta Center - the "When will Del be fired?" sweepstakes begins anew in Los Angeles.
Del Harris, the Lakers coach, said that he and center Shaquille O'Neal would be the ones to get the finger pointed at them if the Lakers lost to the Jazz. Seeing as O'Neal scored 39 points with 15 boards on Friday, consider Shaq cleared.
Harris, who predicted Wednesday that the Lakers would win a pair in the Forum to send the series back to Salt Lake City knotted at 2-2, will have no such luck. Already far from being the most popular coach in Lakers history, fans will be calling for his neck.
"The better team is winning the series," said Lakers guard Nick Van Exel after the game.
The better-coached team, too.
"It doesn't look good," said Van Exel. "They're playing the best ball they can play."
The Jazz had lost the Game 3 in both previous series this year and twice last season, but they put behind them their usual lackadaisical third game of a series and took a commanding lead by doing what they do best. They played fundamental basketball.
The Lakers, meanwhile, had more SportsCenter worthy moments but failed to do the little things, like make their free throws. The Lakers bricked 15 foul shots on the night.
By contrast, the Jazz went 24-of-29 from the free throw line for 82.8 percent as a team.
Karl Malone, as per usual, was the high-scorer for the Jazz with 26 points. The Mailman also pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds.
But the player of the game for the Jazz may have been Chris Morris, who scored 15 points with seven boards and four assists in 24 minutes. Morris was forced into action early due to foul trouble by Bryon Russell and he made the most of his time. He scored 10 points in the second quarter alone.
Then again, Russell may have been the Jazz's player of the game himself. He scored 17 points in only 25 minutes. He made all six of his field goals attempts - including three 3-pointers - and his trey with 1:37 to play was a back-breaker for the Lakers, giving the Jazz a 99-92 lead.
Of course, an argument could be made that Shandon Anderson was Utah's top star on the night. The second-year guard came up huge in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field.
When the Jazz opened the third quarter with a three-point lead, 74-71, they had to be feeling good about themselves. Utah had won 57 consecutive games when leading entering the fourth quarter. Make that 58.
The Lakers cut the gap to one on a couple of occasions but could never take a fourth-quarter lead. An Anderson three-point play with 4:35 remaining gave the Jazz a 94-87 advantage, but the Lakers had one more rally in them. They cut the gap to four and Robert Horry had a wide-open 3-pointer that would have cut it to one - but he missed. Russell responded with his final trey and the game was all but over.
The Jazz have the Lakers on the ropes, but are still being cautious.
"They've got fight in them," said Russell. "They are too young to be emotionally devastated."
The game was close throughout, but Utah led most of the way. The Jazz went up by as many as nine early in the third quarter but the Lakers' 13-3 run - capped by five straight points by Eddie Jones - gave them a 62-61 lead with 4:04 remaining in the quarter. It was L.A's first lead since midway through the first quarter. The Jazz quickly regained the lead. An Antoine Carr shot that was goal-tended by Kobe Bryant gave the Jazz a 74-71 lead at the end of three.
The Lakers got to the foul line more than twice as often as the Jazz in the first half, but couldn't take advantage of it. The Lakers were just 10-for-19 from the line (52.6 percent). The Jazz, meanwhile, made all eight of their free throw attempts in the opening half and had a 49-43 lead to show for it.
Game 4 is set for Sunday afternoon at 1:30.
Game 1 Jazz 112
Karl Malone leads Jazz with 29 points
Game 2 Jazz 99
John Stockton breaks out with 22 points
Game 3 Jazz 109
Chris Morris scores 15 off the bench
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