The Lakers won 65 regular season games and were superior to the Utah Jazz Sunday in their opening playoff test. It doesn’t take a basketball expert to realize the Lakers have an excellent chance of reaching the NBA Finals.But the history of NBA playoffs tells us the best teams don’t always win. It’s a marathon covering nearly two months in a sport where one injury can change everything.What I saw Sunday at Staples Center was a Lakers’ team at its best, ably coached by Phil Jackson and capable of holding off a pretty tough opponent. It was a game between the No. 1 and 8 seeds in the Western Conference, the beginning of a series the Lakers would be unlikely to lose, and yet the Jazz did well in the second half and found some positive areas.Utah was one of the NBA’s best teams this season in home games and can be expected to scrap hard in Games 3 and 4 this weekend in Salt Lake City.Teams coached by Jerry Sloan don’t quit even though the coach was critical of his team after the game for not being nasty enough.”Most teams we’ve had were nasty,” he said. “This team has younger players and haven’t reached that level yet.”Kobe Bryant said Sloan was merely trying to motivate his players for the rest of the series.”The way Sloan played was so rough that if he played that way now he’d be kicked out of the league.” said Bryant. Sloan played before Bryant came into the NBA, but Kobe has heard stories from former players.So what did happen in Game 1?”They kept knocking at the door but we didn’t let them in,ï¿½ said Bryant.The Jazz were without center Mehmet Okir, who averages 17 points, but his hamstring injury isn’t considered serious and he’s likely to play in the series.The Lakers, who were without center Andrew Bynum for three months because of a knee injury, were fortunate to have him in this game. That’s because Pau Gasol fouled out after scoring 20 points and the Lakers needed both big men.In Jackson’s coaching career his teams that won the first game of a series never have lost the series. That’s 41 of 41.It’s difficult to determine which teams will provide the most formidable opposition as the tournament continues, but the Lakers had to feel good about the outcome of two other games.Boston, the defending champion that beat the Lakers in last season’s championship round, lost its first game to Chicago. The Celtics are obviously weaker without injured star Kevin Garnett, but losing on their home court to the Bulls was not expected.And Portland lost. The Trail Blazers have defeated Laker teams in the last eight games played by the teams in Portland, so the Lakers would rather not see them in the second round. Playing Houston, which is trying to eliminate Portland, wouldn’t be a picnic either, but the Lakers have handled the Rockets better.
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