Do The Lakers Lack a Killer Instinct?

Objectively speaking, the Lakers hold a commanding 2-0 lead in their first-round matchup with the Jazz. How commanding? According to ESPN's John Hollinger, teams that open a series with two straight wins have gone on to win the series 192 out of a possible 204 times in playoff history. For those who can't perform long division before their morning coffee, that translates to 94.1%.

So why did Derek Fisher predict that Phil Jackson would put his team through a practice "from hell" after beating the Jazz 119-109 on Tuesday? Because for the second game in a row, the Lakers let a fat lead shrink in the fourth quarter.
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The Lakers led Game 2 on Tuesday by as many as 20 in the first half, and though the Jazz chipped away at the lead in the third quarter, the game still looked seemingly in hand with a 13-point lead at the 7:23 mark in the fourth. Over the next four and half minutes, though, the Jazz made a game of it, whittling the deficit down to three.

Should the fact that the Lakers couldn't keep their proverbial foot on Utah's neck worry fans in L.A.? After all, it wasn't that long ago that Jackson called out his team's lack of a "killer instinct," and it was less than a month ago that he insisted on putting his starters through the paces in the final minutes of a blowout win until they executed five clean plays in a row.

What's even more curious is the fact that Utah made its biggest charge immediately after most of the Lakers' starters returned to the floor. It's one thing to let your bench squander a lead, but it's another to see Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom surrendering big runs.

Is it time for the Lakers to worry? Is this a front-running team doomed to first-quarter blowouts and fourth-quarter busts?

Personally, I don't buy it. For as much as people will talk about L.A.'s "collapse," they still closed out the game with a 9-2 run and a double-digit margin of victory. Sure, things started to get a little dicey for awhile, but perhaps credit should be given where it's due.

The Lakers are extremely talented and the prohibitive favorite, but the game is still more than just a mental exercise between five guys wearing purple and gold -- there's actually another team on the floor with some pretty talented players and a lot of pride at stake.

Runs happen for both teams, and as impressive as the Jazz looked cutting the deficit down, the Lakers looked even better pulling away. Don't sweat the small stuff, just the final score.

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