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Lakers tempting playoff fate with sloppy finishes to games

After the Lakers nearly squandered a 20-point lead in the opening game of the series, coach Phil Jackson wrote on the dry erase board in the locker room, "15? Not like that ..." It was supposed to be a wake-up call for the team, a message that it needed to play better to win 15 more playoff games and a championship. But with each victory, the Lakers seemingly lose a little more confidence, having so much trouble keeping big leads.

The Lakers built 20-point leads in their three home victories in the series but allowed the Jazz to creep within a couple of possessions each time. Remember, the Lakers were playing a team that lost 11 of its last 18 games and seven of its last nine to fall to the eighth and final seed.

After Monday's victory, the dry erase board in the locker room read, "12 more." The "not like that" was left out, as the Lakers knew they weren't going to go far in the playoffs by making a habit of coughing up big leads. The locker room cleared out quicker than it would have had the team lost, as the dejected looks on the players' faces told the story of a team that hadn't so much advanced in the playoffs but survived without playing well.

"We've got to give a better effort," said Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 31 points. "The second unit comes in there and we've got to give a better effort defensively, running back on defense and not giving up easy baskets. We have a week here [before the second round begins]. We'll have a spirited conversation with the group and see if we can't correct this for the next series."

Lamar Odom. His role as a spark plug off the bench might be a thing of the past after Odom's performance in the starting lineup Monday. He scored 26 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and gave the Lakers the boost they needed on a night in which they got little help from their normally reliable bench players.

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"I am just being aggressive with and without the ball," Odom said. "The best thing you can do in there is play hard, get offensive rebounds and push it."

Deron Williams. You hate to single out a player who practically carried the Jazz on his back in the series, but Williams was ineffective in Game 5. He scored 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting and had a plus/minus of -16. The best indicator of his ineffectiveness was that while Williams (along with Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko) was on the bench, the Jazz went on a 16-2 run and cut the Lakers' lead to six points. That would be as close as they would get.

Trevor Ariza. Another playoff game, another playoff career high for Ariza, who had seven rebounds to go with 12 points and four assists. Ariza showed no lingering effects of the right ankle sprain he suffered Saturday in Utah and was flying all over the court, even blocking two shots in the first half.

Twelve bench points for the Lakers. L.A. had only six bench points in the game with less than 10 minutes left, all from Sasha Vujacic, before Jackson cleared the bench. But the Jazz mounted a comeback against the reserves, forcing Jackson to go back to his starters. The Lakers were able to win 65 games this season, thanks in part to their deep "Bench Mob," but it has been nonexistent recently. Jordan Farmar was tagged with his third straight "DNP -- Coach's Decision" while Andrew Bynum scored only two points in 11 minutes. Both players left the locker room quickly after the game.

Normally you don't associate Alec Baldwin with playoff basketball, but Jackson has made it a tradition of playing the actor's classic "always be closing" speech from Glengarry Glen Ross to the Lakers whenever they are in position to wrap up a series. While it has worked well in recent years, it's not foolproof. "He kept playing that when we had a 3-1 series lead against Phoenix in 2006," Walton said, referring to a first-round series that the Lakers lost in seven games. "We're better closers now."

With the Jazz eliminated, the Lakers must now wait to face either the Rockets or Trail Blazers. Houston leads the series 3-1, which is good news since the Lakers have lost eight in a row at Portland dating to 2005. While Bryant said he would love to play the Blazers after the Lakers' last loss in Portland, L.A. was 4-0 this season against Houston. The storyline in that series would be Ron Artest intensely battling Bryant. The last time Kobe visited the Toyota Center, he dropped 31 on Artest and the Rockets -- including 18 in the fourth quarter.