LOS ANGELES — Why even play these games?
The Utah Jazz arrives in Los Angeles, pulls into Staples Center, and loses to the Lakers, a ritual that’s become increasingly predictable over the years, a laughable lump for an otherwise respectable franchise.
The Lakers won again Tuesday, 120-91, beating the Jazz for a 17th consecutive time at Staples Center, a streak dating to January 2006 and including victories in three playoff series.
This one came with a twist. It looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers were wearing Utah jerseys, the Lakers’ defensive effort most of the game reminiscent of their dominant performance two weeks ago against Cleveland.
In fact, reporters began rifling through record books when the Lakers took a 38-point lead, but Tuesday’s final score wasn’t close to the Lakers’ 46-point drubbing of the Jazz in 2000.
It didn’t diminish what took place on the court. Not in the least.
Utah plays the Lakers in L.A., Utah loses once again ... badly, this time.
“I’m always surprised here,” Kobe Bryant said. “It’s tough to beat a team like that by that kind of margin.”
Bryant was incredibly efficient, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom took turns pounding the Jazz down low, and the Lakers shot a seamless 62 percent as a team.
“When you shoot that high a percentage, it’s awful hard on a team,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
It was practically over by halftime, the Lakers holding a 66-38 lead while stepping all over some of the recent criticism about a defense that slipped up last week in Dallas.
The Jazz shot 32.6 percent in the first half, later pushing it to 41.9 percent for the game as the Lakers’ defense finally rested in the fourth quarter.
Bryant had 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting and added six assists. He did not play in the fourth quarter. Gasol had 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Bynum had 19 points and 11 rebounds without playing in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers led wire-to-wire for a league-leading eighth time and had assists on 34 of their 44 baskets.
They didn’t look like they needed to get younger.
“I went out and bought Omega-3s,” Jackson said dryly when asked if the Lakers were spurred by talk of being too old.
There were plenty of highlight-worthy moments.
Odom had 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including a high-arc 11-footer as he fell out of bounds after being fouled by Francisco Elson in the fourth quarter.
Steve Blake continued a recent run of efficiency, totaling five points and four assists in the first half and also somehow beating 6-foot-9 Andrei Kirilenko on a jump ball in the second quarter.
Utah (27-18) has struggled recently, losing four consecutive games coming into Tuesday, including a listless 96-85 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday.
Jazz guard Deron Williams had 29 points and 12 assists in a 102-96 victory over the Lakers in November, but he was held to 17 points and eight assists.
It didn’t all go perfectly for the Lakers.
Shannon Brown missed a fast-break dunk in the fourth quarter, the ball flying out of the hoop and bouncing out of bounds. It didn’t matter. Bryant went over and hugged him. Bynum rubbed his head. There were even a few smiles from the coaching staff.
The Lakers play Friday against one of the NBA’s worst teams, Sacramento, before Boston comes to town Sunday.
If there are smiles from the Lakers in the fourth quarter of that one, it will be a sign of a season on the rise.