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First playoff loss doesn't discourage Lakers

First playoff loss doesn't discourage Lakers

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- After opening the playoffs with six straight wins, the Lakers aren't about to get discouraged by one loss.

Los Angeles still leads Utah 2-1 in the Western Conference semifinals and can take a commanding lead home with a victory Sunday afternoon in Game 4.

Utah's 104-99 win in Game 3 on Friday night was the Lakers' first loss since April 8 against Portland. Los Angeles won its remaining four games to claim the top seed in the Western Conference, then stormed through the first round with a sweep of Denver and took a quick 2-0 lead on Utah.

The streak ended when the Jazz came up with their best game of the series and the Lakers had their worst of the playoffs, turning the ball over 18 times and allowing Utah to resurrect its struggling offense.

"It's almost like we didn't expect the Jazz to come out with their best effort," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said before practice Saturday. "We still had a chance, but we didn't deserve to win the game with some of the things we did and some of the mistakes we made."

Fisher played for the Jazz last year when they fell behind Houston 2-0, then came back with two wins at home and ended up taking the series in seven games.

If the Lakers falter again Sunday, Utah will be returning to Los Angeles with new confidence and a chance to win the series by narrowing it to a best-of-three.

"Now we know that we can beat this team," said Carlos Boozer, who led the Jazz with 27 points and 20 rebounds Friday night. "We know what the formula is for winning and we have to duplicate that tomorrow."

The Jazz will be hosting a Sunday afternoon game for the first time since 2001. It's their first Sunday playoff game since 2000.

EnergySolutions Arena is just blocks away from the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state's predominant religion. Sundays are generally off-limits to anything but church and family activities.

Team owner Larry Miller is even putting his Mormon faith ahead of his team and will continue his practice of not attending Sunday games.

But there are still plenty of non-Mormons in the state, as well as some members of the church who will be spending Sunday afternoon at the arena instead of their local church. The available tickets for Sunday's game sold out in less than 15 minutes.

Utah is 40-5 at home this season. Game 5 is Wednesday in Los Angeles and the Jazz don't want to be down 3-1 and in an elimination game on the road.

"It's a huge difference. We'd prefer the 2-2 route," forward Kyle Korver said.

Jazz point guard Deron Williams said he was still sore from landing hard on his right hand in Friday's game, but X-rays showed no break in his hand or wrist. He banged the palm of his hand when he fell on a drive late in the second quarter, but continued to play and had 18 points and 12 assists.

A sore hand will not keep him from playing Sunday. Williams and his teammates will still be riding high from Friday, when they shot 50 percent, outrebounded the Lakers and controlled the lane.

Kobe Bryant still scored 34 for the Lakers, but none of his teammates managed more than 13 points. The Jazz also limited 7-foot center Pau Gasol to 12 points and six rebounds and forced him into five turnovers.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson was critical of Gasol on Saturday, saying he didn't adjust to Utah's physical play under the basket, especially when the Jazz double-teamed him.

"That's not about getting more space. It's about him understanding what's happening, picking the ball up and hitting the open guy," Jackson said. "They're leaving guys wide open. He's just got to pick the basketball up and put it in people's hands so they can score."

Bryant said the Lakers simply made too many mistakes to win a road game in the playoffs.

"We can minimize that and we can control that -- being stronger with the basketball and making smarter decisions," Bryant said. "What we can do is get hands in their faces, take care of the basketball and play hard on the defensive end."

Forward Lamar Odom said he watched the replay twice before going to sleep early Saturday and saw how many mistakes the Lakers made.

"Adjustments will be made. I probably won't share them with you because then I'd be sharing with it with them," he said.

The Lakers were relaxed before practice on Saturday. Despite not playing particularly well Friday, they were still within four points in the final minute and a shot or two from a different outcome.

Los Angeles also rarely blows leads in playoff series. The Lakers are 35-1 after winning the first two games of a best-of-seven series. And the seven times they have opened the playoffs with six straight wins, made it to seven NBA finals and won the championship six times.

If the Lakers play more like they did in the first two games than they did Friday, they could have a chance to keep up the history.

"Last night we had way too much slippage for a team that expected to win a Game 3 in the playoffs," Fisher said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-05-10-08 1707MDT

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