LOS ANGELES -- You know the Los Angeles Lakers aren't going to lose to Utah.
I know the Lakers aren't going to lose to Utah.
That doesn't mean the Lakers can think they aren't going to lose to Utah. Bad form.
There are rules to this take-it-for-granted thing. Fans and media, OK. Players, not OK.
The Lakers cut it a little close for comfort in Game 1 Sunday, leading the entire game before getting caught late, and needing to summon up a closing rally for a narrow, 104-99, victory.
That made it 15 consecutive playoff and regular-season victories the Lakers have hung on the visiting Jazz at Staples Center. So you can hardly blame the basketball universe for treating this second-round Western Conference series like a foregone conclusion.
It's in the NBA DNA. The defending champion Lakers step over Utah in the postseason.
Still, the rules require the series be played on the floor. Something might happen.
And heck, it almost did on Sunday. The Jazz fought back from its game-long, five-to-10 point deficit, and took its biggest lead (four points) with 4:10 remaining.
The Staples ticket-holders finally had a use for their free T-shirts. Instead of putting them on en masse, like the Oklahoma City fanatics (because looking like the person sitting next to you is a little too, well, rural for an LA crowd), at least they had something with which to wipe the nervous sweat off their brows.
Then they watched the Lakers get serious, get defensive and give the ball to Kobe Bryant for an 11-2 run that restored order.
The only question at the end of the game was, why did they make it hard on themselves?
"We've been giving up leads all season long and we need to fix that problem," said center Andrew Bynum.
Yeah, it would be nice to fix it. But by now, it's just the Lakers' personality. The killer instinct fell off the team bus on a preseason road trip to Ontario last October and was never recovered.
This team gets by. It gets psyched up in short bursts. The Lakers' attention span is shorter than Calvin Borel. It doesn't help that they are playing a team that they repeatedly hammer.
In fact, it's the only way they can lose this thing, assuming that all leads are safe, or can be recovered at will.
But until Utah actually wins a game, or threatens the world order, it's unlikely to change.
The only time the Lakers sustained an aggressive effort and buried the Thunder in the previous series was when it was tied 2-2, and a Game 5 loss at Staples would have been disastrous. The Lakers played scared and played very well.
Sunday, they played very well for the first quarter, to establish the expected lead, then traded baskets until Utah's late surprise.
"I don't know if our energy was together," said Lamar Odom, pondering the reason for the Lakers' latest close call. "If we separate mentally, we can be beat. As long as our energy is collective, we'll be all right."
Odom gave us a picture on the court. When the Lakers found themselves in trouble in the fourth quarter, he was a monster on the offensive boards, grabbing rebounds, keeping the ball alive and putting back two missed shots.
Until then? Eh.
Anyway, it was one of the better showings by the Jazz at Staples in recent memory, but still a loss. So someone asked Carlos Boozer about the depressing effect of the losing streak here.
"We don't think about that," said the Jazz forward. "I know you all do. But we're trying to win. We're not here on vacation."
No, that's probably coming in the next week or so. The one problem is, the Lakers assume so, too.