Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot between Mehmet Okur (13) and Ronnie Brewer (9) of the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center on Monday in Los Angeles, California. AFP
LOS ANGELES: Kobe Bryant scored 31 points as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated Utah Jazz 107-96 to win their opening round NBA playoff series in five games.
Bryant, who was sporting a bruise on the right side of his face after the game, helped set the tone with a number of stunning jump shots and three pointers.
"It is playoff basketball," Bryant said. "Anytime you are dealing with an elimination game the intensity gets raised."
Lamar Odom had 26 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who earned several days of rest before meeting the winner of the Portland-Houston series.
The Lakers didn't want to have to go back to Salt Lake City, the site of their game three collapse and their game four bounceback.
"I think we had a first-round opponent that was much tougher this year than we did last year," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I'm not discounting the present Denver team when I talk about last year's Denver team, but we were able to kind of do what we wanted to do with them and were able to sweep them 4-0.
"I think it will prep us for what we have to do as we go along. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
It was a disappointing end for a Jazz team that had high expectations.
"Injuries kind of affected us and we really weren't able to ever get into a rhythm," Utah's Deron Williams said. "We kind of headed downhill toward the playoffs and we just really didn't get the type of effort we needed to win a series."
The Jazz cut the lead to 93-86 with 4:37 left but Bryant hit a turnaround jumper and Odom finished a fast break with a slam dunk to fend off Utah's late run.
"We're happy that we got the win, but I don't think we're happy about how we won so we have to pay attention and stay focused on closing games out," Lakers forward Trevor Ariza said.
Paul Millsap led Utah with 16 points while Andrei Kirilenko and Williams had 14 apiece.
Pau Gasol had 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Ariza 12 points for the Lakers.
In the other West matchup, Carmelo Anthony scored all 26 of his points in the third quarter as Denver humiliated New Orleans 121-63 in a game that equaled the most lopsided win in NBA playoff history.
Denver shot 57 percent (33-of-58) through the first three quarters, when Chauncey Billups scored all of his 17 points. Nene added 13 points and Dahntay Jones 12. Denver led 89-50 at one point in the third quarter and they didn't let up as they matched the Minneapolis Lakers 133-75 demolition of the St. Louis Hawks in 1956.
"I wouldn't have thought that we would win by 58 points," Anthony said. "I never thought anyone could win by 58 points in the playoffs."
Denver reserve center Chris Andersen, cut loose by New Orleans after last season, had 11 points and eight rebounds. Linas Kleiza had 14 points and J.R. Smith 12.
The Nuggets stymied New Orleans all-star Chris Paul, whose four points and six assists amounted to one of the worst games of his career.
It was the first time Paul, who did not play in the fourth quarter, had ever scored fewer than 14 points in a playoff game.
The Nuggets can close out the series at home in Game 5 on Wednesday.
David West was the Hornets' high scorer with 14 points, while James Posey had 12. Denver held New Orleans to only 31.5 percent shooting and forced the Hornets into a franchise playoff-high 27 turnovers.
(China Daily 04/29/2009 page24)