Kobe has Lakers on track

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LOS ANGELES The chants of “MVP, MVP” directed at Kobe Bryant by Los Angeles Lakers’ fans have a different meaning now. They represent fact, not just sentiment.

Bryant played like a Most Valuable Player on Wednesday night, getting 34 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and the Lakers beat the Utah Jazz 120-110 to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals and remain the only unbeaten team in the postseason.

Bryant received his first MVP trophy from NBA commissioner David Stern in a brief ceremony before the game.

"I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say," Bryant said as the capacity crowd of 18,997 roared its approval. "I love you guys so much. We’re going to play until June. Let’s get this party started."

The 29-year-old Bryant was a runaway winner, receiving 82 first-place votes and 1,100 points to far outdistance New Orleans’ Chris Paul in the voting of 126 media members. The results were announced Tuesday.

The Lakers made their first six shots, and after falling behind 13-12, Bryant scored six points during a 13-0 run that put them ahead for good.

"It’s a great day for us today," said Lamar Odom, who had 19 points and 16 rebounds. "We want to protect our homecourt throughout the playoffs. We came here and did that. It was a big win for us."

The series shifts to Utah for Games 3 and 4 on Friday night and Sunday. The Jazz had an NBA-best 37-4 home record this season, but one of the losses was by 11 points to the Lakers on March 20.

In the only other NBA playoff game on Wednesday, Orlando beat Detroit 111-86.

"No expectations, no disappointments," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said regarding his team’s upcoming games in Utah.

Derek Fisher, who played for Utah last season, added 22 points and Pau Gasol scored 20 for the Lakers, who shot 57.4 percent from the field and went 35-for-43 from the foul line while Utah went 13-of-16.

"We can’t foul them," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We’ve put them at the line 89 times (in two games). That’s way too many. That was the difference in the game, free throws."

Seven Utah players scored in double figures led by Deron Williams, who had 25 points, including three 3-pointers in the last 33 seconds, and 10 assists. Paul Millsap 17 points and 10 rebounds, Mehmet Okur had 16 points and Andrei Kirilenko scored 14. Okur and Kirilenko both fouled out in the final minute.

Carlos Boozer was held to 10 points ù all in the second half. He played less than seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.

The Jazz outrebounded the Lakers 58-41 in Game 1, but lost 109-98. They won the battle of the backboards again 41-37, but shot 45-of-101 (44.6 percent) while the Lakers were 39-of-68 (57.4 percent). The 101 shots were the most Utah has taken in a game this season.

"We think it’s going to be a different ballgame when we go back home," Williams said. "Hopefully guys can get their confidence back shooting-wise because we still have not had a good shooting game. They played great defense on us.

"There’s no need to panic, but they’re definitely in control right now. We’ve got to protect our homecourt. These next two games are must-wins."

The Jazz outscored the Lakers 11-4 to draw within five points with just under 6 minutes to play. But a jumper by Sasha Vujacic, a 3-pointer by Fisher and a free throw by Gasol extended the Lakers‘ lead to 105-94 with 4:26 left. Utah wasn’t closer than six points after that.

"We were never able to gather momentum in the second half, but we never really had that point where we felt threatened in this ballgame," Jackson said. "We felt that the offense was going well, we were doing things we wanted to do."

The Lakers led by as many as 15 points before settling for a 63-49 halftime lead. Williams scored three points and Boozer none in the opening 24 minutes. They combined to average 39.9 points during the regular season.

It was 83-73 entering the fourth quarter.

Magic 111, Pistons 86

At Orlando, Fla., Rashard Lewis scored a career playoff-high 33 points and Orlando ended a nine-game postseason losing streak to Detroit with the Game 3 win in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Pistons All-Star point guard Chauncey Billups strained his right hamstring 4 minutes into the game and never returned. He will be re-evaluated Thursday and his status for Saturday’s Game 4 in Orlando could be decided then.

Richard Hamilton scored 24 points and Tayshaun Prince had 22 for Detroit, which got within 73-69 at the end of three quarters only to see Orlando pull away again.

Dwight Howard had 20 points and 12 rebounds for Orlando, which was swept in the first round by Detroit last season.

______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.  

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