Defense carries Lakers over Jazz

Tomorrow’s game story tonight …

The Lakers finally got it right tonight.

No muss, no fuss, no reason to panic about a winless start to the season either.

The Lakers hammered the Utah Jazz 96-71 in front of a relieved sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center. They looked coolly confident while playing for the third time in as many days to start the lockout-delayed and shortened 2011-12 season.

Order restored?

Crisis averted?

Well, that remains to be seen.

The Lakers did take a few determined strides in the right direction, however. They played their first cohesive game, their first complete game after disjointed efforts in losses Sunday to the Chicago Bulls and Monday to the Sacramento Kings.

Maybe back-to-back-to-back games helped them find their rhythm. They certainly filled in the gaps in their play while building a 29-point lead in the second half and improving to 20-4 all-time against the Jazz at Staples Center.

“I’m glad that’s over,” a smiling Kobe Bryant would later say of playing three games in three days to start the season. “There were a lot of positives. We were a lot more consistent (Tuesday) and we didn’t have to think as much out there.”

Late in the game, Bryant stuck out his tongue in a child-like celebration after swishing a 3-pointer over C.J. Miles that gave the Lakers an 86-62 lead with a little more than six minutes to play. It was clear they were having fun again.

Bryant scored 26 points, grabbed eight rebounds and added five assists in 30 minutes, 51 seconds. Pau Gasol had 22 points and nine rebounds in relief of suspended center Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace scored 14 points in a reserve role.

Paul Millsap scored 18 points for Utah, which shot only 32.2 percent (29 of 90). Josh Howard added 10 points, but he and Millsap were the only Jazz players to score in double figures as the Lakers held them to only 31 points in the first half.

“It’s hard to hold a team to 71 points and 32 percent shooting, I don’t care who you’re playing,” Mike Brown said after his first victory as the Lakers’ coach. “It was exciting to see. … It was a fun game for me to watch.”