Lakers Find Way to Make Easy Win Interesting

It got close; the Lakers match-up advantages prove to be too much.

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 02: Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Paul Millsap #24 of the Utah Jazz during Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs on May 2, 2010 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 104-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

    It shouldn't be that hard. The Lakers have some serious match-up advantages in this series against the Jazz -- ones that should allow them to move on to the next round.

    But first they have to win four games -- they have to get enough bench play and stay focused long enough to do that. Los Angeles had that focus for the first half and then again the final five minutes of the game Sunday, and that was enough to win 104-99 and take a 1-0 series lead.

    The time they were without it was enough to give the Jazz the lead and make what had looked like a blowout interesting.

    "I thought one through seven, we did pretty good, but our bench let us down," Phil Jackson said.

    It was close at the end, but it didn't look like it would be close early on. Coming off a series against the long and athletic Thunder where every shot was contested, it had to seem like Christmas for a while for the Lakers against a small, slower Jazz squad.

    Kobe started 6-6 from the floor, several of those coming on layups as he blew past his man and his lane to the basket was more open to the basket than the 405 Freeway at 2 a.m. He finished the game with 31, on 12 of 19 shooting.

    Meanwhile, coming off a series against the undisciplined Nuggets, Denver had problems with the long Lakers front line. LA took away the easy shots and the Jazz settled for poor choices. Like a Carlos Boozer fade-away 17-footer over the outstretched arm of Gasol.

    "We shot a lot of jump shots early on, rather than working inside out…" Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "They are a way better defensive team than Denver."

    In the second half, the Jazz adjusted to that inside-out need by trying to go with more guard penetration. Meanwhile, the Lakers started to look fat and happy.

    The Lakers can't do that in this series. The Jazz are a team that keeps playing hard and keeps executing its offense all the time. If you relax -- as the Lakers bench did -- they start to get layups. Then their confidence grows, and suddenly you have a ballgame. That's what happened when the Lakers were down with less than five minutes in the game.

    But the Lakers have some serious match-up advantages. With Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum next to each other in the paint, the Lakers length intimidated the Jazz (as it had done early in the game, when the Lakers broke out to an early lead). In crunch time, two straight trips down Utah settled for and missed threes. That started the Lakers comeback.

    The Jazz did what they could, but in the end, the Lakers are bigger and longer than the Jazz, and that is something you can't just adjust for.

    "Unless I grow three inches by tomorrow, there's not much we can do…" Deron Williams said. "Nothing we can do about it, we just have to attack them."

    That's not going to be enough in a best-of-seven, one the Lakers now lead.

    Kurt Helin lives in Los Angeles and is the Blogger-in-Chief of NBC's NBA blog Pro Basketball Talk (which you can also follow in twitter).