LeBron James said the Los Angeles Lakers knew they had to bring plenty of energy to beat the Utah Jazz in the second of two difficult back-to-back road games.
James contributed 20 points and 12 assists to support Anthony Davis’ team-high 26 points as the Lakers rolled to a dominant 121-96 win and improved their season record to 19-3, the best in the Western Conference.
A night after winning in Denver, the Lakers pushed the pace on offense and closed down passing lanes and contested shots even while leading by double digits throughout the second half.
“We knew we had to bring energy,” James said. “Even with a back-to-back, we still got to have energy and we got to push the pace. We’re very good when we get stops and we run. It’s very important for us to push the pace, but it starts with our defense and we got defensive stops.”
Davis finished with a trio of blocked shots. All three came during the third quarter. His first one provided the biggest highlight when he ran past Bojan Bogdanovic, changed direction, and recovered to block the Jazz forward’s attempted three-pointer.
Davis made a tough play look simple and, in the process, summed up for his team-mates where he is at defensively early in the season.
“It’s not hard [to block that shot] when you are Defensive Player of the Year,” said James, who celebrated his first win in Utah since December 8, 2010.
Rajon Rondo paced a strong bench effort with 14 points, and season-highs of 12 assists and eight rebounds.
The Lakers burned the Jazz repeatedly in transition, outscoring Utah 32-5 in fast-break points. Much of that came as a result of high-energy defense. Los Angeles totalled 21 points off 19 Jazz turnovers.
“We’ve got a good team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We have high aspirations. We’re trying to keep a game-to-game, stay-in-the-moment focus throughout the year.”
Donovan Mitchell scored 29 points and Bogdanovic added 23 for Utah, who lost for the fifth time in six games.
Utah shot 45.2 per cent from three-point range but forced just seven turnovers, a season-low for the Lakers, and allowed Los Angeles to shoot 51 per cent from the field and 48 per cent from three-point range.
“At the beginning of the year there was a determination and a focus defensively, and it showed,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “More recently, we’ve allowed other things, whether it be a missed shot, perception of a bad call, a turnover, everything is lingering. Our inability to get to the next play has hurt our defense.”
“We have got to come in and look at ourselves in the mirror, and there’s stuff we have got to do better,” Mitchell said. “We have got to hold each other accountable when it is necessary.”
After trailing by as many as 16 points early in the third quarter, the Jazz trimmed the deficit to 68-57 on a runner from Jeff Green. That was as close as they got.
Los Angeles countered with a 10-2 run capped off by JaVale McGee’s alley-oop dunk to go up 78-59 midway through the period.
“We have been struggling coming out in the third quarter, giving teams more life,” Davis said. “We gave it up a little bit tonight and then we kind of found it again.”
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