The Los Angeles Lakers made a fantastic start to the defense of their Western Conference title on Sunday, racing to a 22-point first-half lead on the way to a 113-100 victory over the Utah Jazz.
Kobe Bryant scored 24 points and forward Trevor Ariza added a career playoff-high 21 points for the top-seeded Lakers, who got 20 points from Pau Gasol in taking the opener of the best-of-seven quarter-final series.
Bryant and Ariza each scored 12 points in a 62-point first half and although Utah closed within nine late in the third, the visitors could not get any closer.
“They [Utah] did a good job hanging in there,” Bryant told reporters. “That’s what Utah does. They scrap, claw, they got a lot of free throws that kept them in the game, but we were able to keep the cushion.”
Bryant, who dished out four of his eight assists in the first quarter, was especially pleased with the play of Ariza.
“He’s playing phenomenal basketball,” Bryant said. “When he first got here, a lot of people questioned his shooting ability. I don’t think people question his shooting anymore.”
Ariza hit eight-of-10 shots from the floor, including a trio of three-pointers.
“They were double-teaming everybody else, so my team mates told me if I was open, shoot the ball and that was what I was doing,” Ariza said.
Carlos Boozer led the eighth-seeded Jazz with 27 points. Deron Williams added 16 points and 17 assists, but Utah shot only 39.1 percent compared to Los Angeles’ 55.6.
The Jazz, who were missing the injured Mehmet Okur, will try to even the best-of-seven series today in Los Angeles.
In Eastern Conference action, the sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers surprised Orlando Magic 100-98 on Andre Iguodala’s field goal with two seconds remaining and the Atlanta Hawks soared past Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat 90-64.
In the day’s other West playoff contest, the second-seeded Denver Nuggets crushed the New Orleans Hornets 113-84 behind 36 points by Chauncey Billups.
In Orlando, the 76ers roared back from a 18-point third-quarter deficit to claim the road victory.
Iguodala had 20 points for Philadelphia and reserve guard Lou Williams added 18.
Dwight Howard’s 31 points and 16 paced Orlando, who host Game Two tomorrow.
In Atlanta, the Hawks held Wade to 19 points. Josh Smith topped Atlanta with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Five team mates were in double figures. Game Two is in Atlanta tomorrow.
In Denver, Billups did all his scoring in three quarters as he poured in eight three-pointers. He had 16 of the Nuggets’ 27 points in the first quarter, scored just two in the second, then delivered 18 in the third as Denver pulled ahead 87-69.
Chris Paul led New Orleans with 21 points and 11 assists.
Game Two takes place in Denver tomorrow.