NBA News and Notes May 14

NBA News and Notes May 14

Celtics hoping home is the answer
May 13, 2008

WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) -The usual beds. The usual lockers. The usual baskets.

The usual questions.

The Celtics are back in Boston for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Cleveland Cavaliers, back where they're unbeaten so far in the playoffs after a regular season in which they posted an NBA-best 35-6 home record.

But it's their 0-5 road record that has them worrying.

``There is some frustration,'' center P.J. Brown said Tuesday after the team's walkthrough and film session. ``But up to this point, it hasn't gotten under our skin.''

Despite going 31-10 away from Boston in the regular season - also an NBA best - the Celtics have yet to win on the road in the playoffs. The slump allowed the lowly Atlanta Hawks to force them to a seventh game in the first round, and it could be their doom against the more formidable Cavaliers and star LeBron James.

``The key is winning the series. Whether it's at home or on the road, you just try to win it,'' Pierce said. ``It's a three-game series, with two of them at home.''

Asked if there was a danger that his players were using their home-court advantage as a crutch, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, ``The danger is that you're playing on the road right now against really good teams.

``We earned that right to have home-court advantage,'' he said. ``I don't think it has anything to do with why we haven't won a road game. We haven't played well on the road, and we have to do better.''

Thanks to their 66-16 regular-season record, the Celtics could theoretically win their 17th NBA title without ever winning a road game.

No team's ever done that, though, and the Celtics don't really want to be the first.

``I'm not even thinking about a Game 7. That's definitely the idea: Get a win (Wednesday) night and try to close it out in Game 6,'' Pierce said. ``We definitely have to play well (in Game 5), because we haven't been playing well on the road.

``You kind of want to treat it like a Game 7, because you can't count on winning Game 6.''

The Cavaliers are in a similar spot in the series - 2-0 at home and 0-2 on the road - but they can't fall back on having the deciding game at home. On the other hand, Cleveland won an away game in the first round, closing out the Wizards 105-88 in Washington in Game 6.

``It just shows how strong you are as a team to be able to go into a hostile environment and stick together and come out with a win,'' Cavaliers guard Daniel Gibson said, adding that coming to Boston a second time will help.

``Once you've experienced an environment, going back to it is kind of like, 'We've been here before.' And we felt like we were right there to win a game. So we know what we're capable of doing on their floor and we're going into it with a lot of confidence.''

The Cavaliers are hanging onto their memories of a Game 1 loss in Boston that wasn't decided until James missed a layup with 8.5 seconds left. The Celtics won Game 2 more handily, but they have yet to come close in Cleveland.

``You can win all your home games and get a championship that way. I don't think that has ever been done,'' Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. ``You've got to get some road wins to be a champion, at least that's the history of the game.

``I tell our guys, if you expect to win in the playoffs, you've got to know how to defend and you've got to know how to win on the road.''

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Jazz vs. Lakers Game 5
By Brad Young

This Western Conference semifinals contest is now a best-of-three series after home teams followed serve the first four games. Los Angeles and Utah have gone 4-0 straight up and 3-0-1 against the spread as the home squad, following a NBA postseason trend that has seen the home side go 17-1 SU and 14-3-1 ATS after Tuesday's action.

Despite having this series tied at two games apiece, Los Angeles remains a decided $4.50 favorite (bet $450 to win $100) to win this series and advance to the next round. Utah is currently listed as a $3.25 underdog (bet $100 to win $325) to advance to the Western Conference finals for the second consecutive season.

Los Angeles guard Kobe Bryant is listed as ‘probable’ for Wednesday’s Game 5 due to a back injury suffered in Sunday’s setback, while forward/center Ronny Turiaf (not suspended) is also ‘probable.’ Utah is listing no players as ‘questionable’ or ‘probable’ for this contest.

Caesars Palace currently lists the Lakers as an 8 ½-point home ‘chalk’ over Utah, with the total set at 214. The total has remained unchanged, but Los Angeles opened as a nine-point favorite. Wednesday’s Game 5 is slated to start at 10:35 p.m. ET from Staples Center, with TNT providing coverage. This best-of-seven series follows a 2-2-1-1-1 format.

Utah (60-32 SU, 48-40 ATS) evened this series at two games apiece with an overtime victory in Sunday’s Game 4 as a home ‘pick,’ 123-115. The combined 238 points soared ‘over’ the 211-point closing total, helping the ‘over’ improve to 2-1 the past three games.

The Jazz opened up a 10-point first-quarter advantage (31-21) before Los Angeles tied things up at halftime by outscoring Utah in the second period (34-24). Both teams recorded 41 rebounds, but the Jazz prevailed by shooting a blistering 53 percent (40-of-76) from the field.

Utah point guard Deron Williams stepped up with 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting while dishing out 14 assists. Five other players also reached double digits in scoring, led by center Mehmet Okur’s 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Los Angeles (63-27 SU, 53-35 ATS) finished the game by connecting at a 47-percent clip (46-of-97) from the field, and 37 percent from behind the arc (9-of-26). Bryant led all scorers with 33 points along with eight rebounds and 10 assists, while forward Lamar Odom added 26, 13 and two.

Utah has struggled to a 19-27 SU and ATS road record, with the ‘over’ going 24-21. The Jazz dropped the first two games of this series on the road by a combined 21 points.

Utah has lost the past six games against the Lakers in Staples Center SU and ATS. The last time the Jazz won on the road against the Lakers occurred on New Year’s Day 2006 as a two-point underdog, 98-94. The ‘over’ is 5-2 the previous seven meetings between these teams in Tinseltown.

Los Angeles maintains a 34-11 SU and 24-21 ATS home ledger, with the ‘over’ going 24-20. The Lakers have been winning their home endeavors by an average score of 111-102.

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

NBA PLAYOFFS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(4) Cleveland (6-4 SU, 7-3 ATS) at (1) Boston (6-5, 5-6 ATS)


The Celtics, who dropped Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland and still haven’t won a road game in the playoffs, hope the friendlier confines of the TD Banknorth Garden are enough to help them regain control of this best-of-7 series against the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers.

Cleveland tied the series with Monday’s 88-77 victory in Game 4, easily cashing as a two-point chalk. The Cavs kept Boston at bay in a tight game for three quarters, then allowed just 12 fourth-quarter points to pull away for the win. LeBron James’ double-double of 21 points and 13 assists paced the Cavs, who held the Celtics’ Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to a total of 43 points on 16-for-40 shootings.

Cleveland, which pounded Boston 108-84 laying two points in Game 3, is 3-1 ATS in this playoff series and 4-1 ATS in its last five games overall. Boston, meanwhile, is on a 4-6 ATS slide (all in the playoffs), after winning and cashing in six straight between the end of the regular season and its first two playoff games against Atlanta.

The season series between these two teams is tied at 4, but the Cavaliers are 6-2 ATS. The home team is on a 9-0 SU run (8-0 this season) but is just 5-4 ATS in that span. Also, despite the fact the favorite has won and cashed in the last three meetings, the underdog is still on a 7-3-1 ATS roll in this rivalry.

In the second round of this year’s playoffs, the home team is an eye-popping 17-1 SU and 14-3-1 ATS.

The Cavaliers are a lengthy 35-16-1 ATS in their last 52 road games against teams with a winning home record and have additional positive pointspread streaks of 5-1 against the Atlantic Division, 4-1 in conference semifinal games and 4-1 on one day of rest. But Cleveland is just 6-17 ATS in its last 23 following a spread-cover and 4-10 ATS in its last 14 after a double-digit SU win.

Doc Rivers’ Celtics are 1-4 ATS against winning teams and 1-6 ATS in conference semifinal contests, but despite struggling in Cleveland, Boston still owns positive ATS trends of 24-11 overall, 14-3 at home, 9-1 at home versus teams with a losing road mark, 7-1 on Wednesday, 11-5 against the Central Division and 15-7 after a SU loss. Finally, the Celtics are 6-0 at home in this postseason (5-1 ATS), winning by an average of 20.2 points per game.

Three of the four games in this playoff series have stayed low, and the under has cashed in four of the last five meetings going back to the regular season, with Monday’s clash falling far short of the 181-point posted price. For Cleveland, the under is on streaks of 12-4 overall, 7-1 against the Atlantic Division, 12-4 on one day of rest and 13-2 in conference semifinal games. The under for Boston is on runs of 16-8 against the East, 8-4 in conference semis, 17-6 against the Central Division, 5-1 at home (all in the playoffs) and 4-1 on one day of rest.

ATS ADVANTAGE: BOSTON and UNDER


WESTERN CONFERENCE

(4) Utah (6-4, 4-5 ATS) at (1) L.A. Lakers (6-2, 6-1-1 ATS)


The Jazz dealt the Lakers their first two losses of the 2008 playoffs in Games 3 and 4, sending this best-of-7 series back to Staples Center tied up at two apiece heading into tonight’s Game 5.

Utah blew a 12-point lead in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter Sunday, allowing L.A. to force overtime, but the Jazz bounced back to take a 123-115 win and cash as a one-point pup. Point guard Deron Williams (29 points, 14 assists) paced Utah, which is still just 2-5-1 ATS (4-4 SU) in its last eight games. Meanwhile, the Lakers, who got 33 points from Kobe Bryant despite him playing with a clearly ailing back, have followed up a 10-game SU winning streak (9-0-1 ATS) with the back-to-back defeats in Salt Lake City.

Los Angeles is 5-3 SU (5-2-1 ATS) against Utah this season, including 4-2 SU and 4-1-1 ATS in the last six contests. The home team is on a 6-1-1 ATS spree in this rivalry and is 10-3-1 ATS in the last 14 battles overall, with the winning team cashing all but one of those 14 games, the exception being in Game 3, which landed right on the number.

The Jazz are 22-8-1 ATS in their last 31 starts against winning teams and 7-3 ATS in their alst 10 after a spread-cover, but they are in pointspread funks of 0-5 as a playoff ‘dog of five to 10½ points, 3-7 as a playoff pup of any price and 8-18 on two days’ rest.

Despite dropping both games in Salt Lake City, the Lakers still carry nothing but positive pointspread streaks, including 6-0 at home, 5-0 as a chalk of five to 10½ points, 7-1 as a favorite of any price, 8-1-1 against the West, 6-1-1 in conference semifinal games, 6-1-1 against the Northwest Division (all in the playoffs), 8-1-1 against the Western Conference and 9-3 on two days’ rest.

Sunday’s game cleared the 210½-point posted total even before overtime hit, making the over 12-6 in the last 18 meetings in this rivalry. For Los Angeles, the over is on tears of 10-2 after a SU loss, 21-7 giving five to 10½ points at home and 37-16 with the Lakers as a chalk of five to 10½ points. However, the under is 5-2 in L.A.’s last seven overall, 7-3 in its last 10 on Wednesdays and 7-1 in its last eight on two days’ rest.

For Utah, the over is on runs of 22-8 against the Pacific Division, 8-2 as a playoff pup of five to 10½ points, 9-4 against winning teams and 5-2 on two days’ rest, but the under is 7-3 in the Jazz’s last 10 overall and 4-1 in their last five as a road ‘dog.

ATS ADVANTAGE: L.A. LAKERS

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Cavs at Celtics, Game 5
By Brian Edwards

Boston (72-21 straight up, 57-34 against the spread) still can’t buy a victory on the road. That’s the bad news for Celtics fans. The good news is that Doc Rivers and Co. return home tonight and they have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

At this rate – 0-5 both SU and ATS in five road games at Atlanta and Cleveland – they’re certainly going to need it.

Cleveland (51-41 SU, 44-48 ATS) broke open a tight game in the final minutes of Monday’s Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena, pulling away for an 88-77 win as a two-point favorite at most books. LeBron James delivered the dagger with a thunderous flush in the face of Kevin Garnett.

James, who continues to struggle with his shooting (more on that below), got it done in other ways, finishing with 13 assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots. And, oh yeah, he had 21 points.

Daniel Gibson provided great minutes off the bench, producing 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. Also, Wally Szczerbiak continued to produce with 14 points, while Anderson Varejao had 12 points and six rebounds. Varejao made 6-of-8 attempts from the field.

Paul Pierce struggled again, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field. Pierce, who can get into the lane off the dribble against just about any defender in the league, has had all sorts of trouble shaking loose from James, who defends him on most possessions.

When Pierce does get his, it’s almost always when James is on the bench or has switched off to another player. Ray Allen’s woes also persisted in Game 4, settling for 15 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Kevin Garnett had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

In explaining Boston’s road struggles, Allen told the Associated Press, “It’s hard to say. I can’t explain it.”

One problem is the bench. At home, Leon Powe provides energy, defense and rebounding, while Sam Cassell is instant offense from off the pine. James Posey is a lockdown defender who can shoot the 3 when left unguarded.

But on the road, these players have disappeared. Cassell missed all five of his shots from the field in Game 4. Powe, Cassell and Posey combined to shoot 0-for-9 in Game 4.

But now the series shift back to Boston, where the Celtics are 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS in these playoffs. For the season, the C’s are 41-6 SU and 30-16-1 ATS at home.

Meanwhile, the Cavs are 20-26 SU on the road. However, they have hooked up their backers by cashing tickets at a 25-21 clip.

With the series tied at 2-2 in Boston’s previous series against Atlanta, the Celtics returned home and dealt woodshed treatment in the form of a 110-85 victory as 14 ½-point favorites.

This time around, most books have installed Boston as a 8 ½-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 176½. The Cavs are plus 400 on the money line (risk $100 to win $400).

Tip-off is scheduled for 8:05 p.m. Eastern on TNT.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

--James has made only 20-of-78 shots from the field in this series. That’s an abysmal 26 percent.

--The ‘under’ is 28-18-1 for Boston in its home games. Also, the ‘under’ is 5-1 in the Celtics’ six home games during these playoffs.

--The ‘under’ is 3-1 in this series, with Game 3 serving as the lone game to go ‘over’ the number.

--The ‘over’ is 23-22 for Cleveland on the road this year.

--LVSC has adjusted the series price to Boston minus 500, with the Cavs plus 350 on the comeback. Most spots had Cleveland at plus 600 when the series started.

--Richard Hamilton is probably one of the most underrated players in NBA history. With Chauncey Billups nursing an injury, all Hamilton did in the last three games is step up to average 29 points per game. The result is Detroit chilling at home after finishing Orlando in five games. Thanks to Rip, Chauncey can get well and the rest of the team can relax while watching the Cavs and Celtics slug it out.

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Wednesday’s best NBA bets
COVERS.com

Cleveland at Boston -8½, 176½

LeBron James may still be having a tough time hitting from 20 feet, but he sure didn’t mind throwing down a massive dunk on Kevin Garnett’s face to seal a Game 4 victory to knot this series at two games apiece.

The only thing with that play is that it may motivate the Celtics more heading into Game 5. Like they need it. Boston has won and covered all of its home games so far in the postseason.

For whatever reason, these Celtics look like a completely different group away from The Garden. They don’t attack or defend with the same intensity at all, almost looking complacent at times as the game slowly gets away from them. Now the Cavs have life and should be a handful for the C’s even if they’re on their home floor.

Pick: Cavs


Utah at Los Angeles -8½, 213½

Kobe Bryant insists he’ll play Wednesday even though his bad back wouldn’t allow him to sit for Game 4’s post-game news conference on Sunday. It’s hard to doubt him after he’s overcome injury issues so many times before and the extra day of rest will make a big difference.

Still, you have to wonder how L.A. would respond of Kobe tweaks his back in the first quarter and has to sit for a while. Utah has all the momentum knowing it is headed back home for at least one more game, maybe the series-deciding game if the Jazz can score the upset on enemy soil.

Pick: Jazz

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Jazz desperately seeking road win as heavy dogs
ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Utah Jazz are almost right where they want to be.

The only thing that could top tying the Western Conference semifinals against the Lakers would be if Game 5 was in Utah instead of Los Angeles. The home team has won all four games of the series and the Jazz would need to end that trend in order to advance.

''I think the pressure is on us a little bit. We've got to go out there and prove we can win there,'' point guard Deron Williams said at practice Monday. ''I think we have the confidence now to do that. We just have to come out and have a good start to the ballgame and hopefully that carries over for the rest of the game.''

Whoever wins Game 5 on Wednesday will be one victory away from clinching when the series returns to Utah on Friday. Oddsmakers have the Lakers favored to be that team at -8 1/2 points. The total is set at 213 1/2.

The Jazz evened the series 2-2 on Sunday with a 123-115 overtime win at home. The Jazz needed two straight victories in Utah after falling behind the Lakers 2-0 when the series opened in Los Angeles.

''We have a good chance. We made the series 2-2 and kind of started over,'' forward Andrei Kirilenko said.

The Jazz feel they have some momentum now after giving the Lakers their first consecutive losses since late March, but one thing Utah is not counting on is Kobe Bryant's back bothering him the way it did Sunday.

Bryant said he had a back spasm early in the first quarter Sunday and was in pain the rest of the game. The Jazz said Monday they didn't notice much of a difference - Bryant still had 33 points and 10 assists - and expected the NBA's MVP to be at full strength in Game 5.

If the Lakers win on Wednesday, the remaining possibilities for the Jazz look pretty bleak.

Los Angeles would host Game 7 if the series goes that far. The Jazz would much rather win in on Wednesday and have a chance to clinch at home than lose Game 5 and have to win again in Utah to stay alive and force a final game.

A year ago, Utah won Game 7 at Houston in the first round, but being the road team when it's winner-take-all is not a good position to be in. The Jazz have played well on the road at times this season, just not against the Lakers.

The Lakers swept both regular season games against Utah in Los Angeles and opened the playoff series with two more home wins. The Jazz fell way behind in the first half of both games and were never able to recover.

''We still feel like in L.A. the first two games, we played three good quarters. We just didn't play four,'' forward Carlos Boozer said.

The Jazz have been an enigma all season, going 37-4 in the regular season, yet struggling on the road. They opened the playoffs with two wins at Houston in the first round and haven't won away from home since.

Utah shot 41 percent in the two games in Los Angeles, then 51 percent at home.

The Jazz will need to find a way to beat the Lakers in the Staples Center for the first time since January 2006 if they are going to win the series.

''Why not? We've done it in the past. We can do it,'' Kirilenko said.

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Bryant skips practice again but says he's ready to play

He says his back is 'a lot better' and would have played today had there been a game.

Kobe Bryant didn't practice, didn't even shoot the ball Tuesday, but reiterated he would be part of the Lakers' most important game so far this season.

He seemed loose and relaxed as he talked to reporters, a contrast to the lower back spasms that had gripped him since Sunday, biting into his sleep patterns and making him grit his teeth on the long freeway ride from his Newport Beach home to the Lakers' training facility in El Segundo.

He said he was still in "quite a bit" of pain but felt better than Monday and, obviously, Sunday, when he was floored twice in the Lakers' Game 4 loss to the Utah Jazz because of the spasms.

Less than a week after he hoisted the MVP trophy in front of an amped home crowd, Bryant wasn't sure he could do it again -- "I would just leave it on the table and look at it," he said -- but he remained committed to playing Game 5 tonight at Staples Center.

The Lakers' two-game lead over Utah withered away in front of an unyieldingly loud Jazz crowd, setting up a portal for one of the teams to take a 3-2 lead tonight.

Bryant hoped to get in some work at today's shoot-around if his back permitted, but he was already pointing to tonight, regardless. "I think that the key is to try to know what you can and can't do," he said. "I don't think it will be that bad again, but if it is, I kind of know what I can and can't do."

Bryant also had fun with reporters Tuesday, smiling as it became obvious he would give only one-word answers at first.

Did he do any shooting Tuesday? "No."

If the game was Tuesday, would he have played? "Yes."

Are there any circumstances that would keep him out of tonight's game? "No."

Is the treatment making a difference? "Yes."

Was his mood better Tuesday? "Yes."

He eventually opened up. His teammates and Coach Phil Jackson also provided insight.

"There's the possibility he may not shoot the ball well, but that doesn't really concern us that much because he'll find a way to do what is necessary in the ballgame at some level," Jackson said. "As long as he can play, we're satisfied. We'll be OK."

Bryant is averaging 34.8 points, seven rebounds and 7.5 assists in the series and shooting 48.3%. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom would be the apparent go-to players if Bryant can't fully function.

"If I need to, of course," Gasol said. "I have no problems with being aggressive and taking more responsibility if that's the case."

latimes.com

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Lakers remain a favorite

Despite its two straight playoff losses going into tonight's Game 5 against Utah, L.A. listed at 6-5 along with Boston to win the NBA title.

Two consecutive playoff defeats to Utah have not altered the Lakers' position as one of the teams to beat for this year's NBA championship, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers.

The Lakers, tied with the Jazz at 2-2 in their best-of-seven series heading into tonight's Game 5 at Staples Center, were listed at 6-5 -- along with the Boston Celtics -- to win the league title based on odds released before Tuesday night's games.

The Detroit Pistons were next at 4-1, followed by the New Orleans Hornets at 9-2 and San Antonio Spurs at 5-1. The Cleveland Cavaliers, who will play Game 5 at Boston tonight, were listed at 10-1, with Utah at 20-1.

Home-court advantage is a key reason why the Lakers are still considered a strong bet, especially in this year's playoffs.

Out of the first 20 home games involving the NBA's top four teams (Celtics, Lakers, Hornets and Pistons), 17 times the favorite has covered the point spread, according to Covers.com.

And when the point spread has been five or more points, favorites have covered 22 of 35 heavy spread playoff games before Tuesday's action.

The point spread for tonight's games?

Both the Lakers and Celtics are 8 1/2 -point favorites.

According to wagerline.com, early bets are nearly split on both games. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Lakers had received 52.31% of the picks against the point spread, while Boston was the choice for 51.92%.

latimes.com

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Re: NBA News and Notes May 14

Wednesday Playoff Gameday

Deron Williams and the Utah Jazz will be looking to pick up another victory when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night. Here is your playoff gameday …

Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics

The Cavaliers dropped the first two games of this second-round set in Boston, but they've since roared back with two straight victories in their own building to tie up the seven-game series. Cleveland pulled out an 88-77 win over the Celtics in Game 4 on Monday night, with LeBron James pouring in a team-high 21 points in the victory (to go along with six rebounds and 13 assists). Wally Szczerbiak and Daniel Gibson were each good for 14 points in the contest, Anderson Varejao had 12 points, and Ben Wallace had seven boards. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo all scored 15 points in a losing cause for Boston, while Paul Pierce contributed 13 points to the attack.

The oddsmakers are siding with the Celtics at home in Game 5 - Boston was listed as an 8.5-point favorite on the contest's opening line. The total was opened at 177 points.

Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Lakers

The Jazz were also tagged with road losses in the first two games of their second-round set, but they've bounced back with consecutive home victories to knot up their best-of-seven series as well. Utah began their comeback with a 104-99 win over the Lakers last Friday night, and they stayed hot with a 123-115 overtime victory in Game 4 on Sunday. Williams led the way with 29 points and 14 assists in the win for the Jazz. Mehmet Okur tossed in 18 points and grabbed 11 boards in the contest, while Carlos Boozer scored 14 points and picked up 12 rebounds. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers' attack with 33 points and 10 assists, while Lamar Odom contributed 26 points and 13 rebounds in the defeat.

The oddsmakers like Los Angeles' chances of shaking off their skid and coming up with a Game 5 win - they were opened as 8-point favorites. The total opened at 214 points.

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