Phil Jackson is back coaching in the NBA, once again striving for harmonious play in his triangle offense and as difficult as ever to please.
"I thought we performed OK down the stretch," Jackson said. "Both teams looked like they were both thumbing around out there. They weren't in condition to play this game."
Rice and Derek Fisher each had two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as the Lakers outlasted the Jazz in an intense season-opener for both teams. The Lakers were 8-of-13 from 3-point range, including 5-of-6 by Rice.
The Jazz took a 67-66 lead with 8:24 to play on a 20-footer by John Stockton, their first lead since early in the game. Fisher's 3-pointer with 6:41 left gave the Lakers a 72-71 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"We were fortunate to shoot well from the 3-point line tonight," said Jackson, who signed a five-year, $30 million contract in June to coach the Lakers. "That was about the only thing that was done well tonight."
Utah pulled within 77-76 with 4:16 remaining on a basket by Jeff Hornacek, who led the Jazz with 23 points. But Fisher drove the lane as the shot clock ran down and Rice added another 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 82-76.
Rice was held scoreless for 36 minutes last week when the teams met in an exhibition, but he had 11 by halftime in the regular-season opener.
"Last time against this team I went 0-for-10," Rice said. "I had a lot of good shots that didn't go in. I figured comininto tonight I would have the opportunity again and I wanted to capitalize."
The Lakers finished with a 45-38 rebounding advantage and limited the Jazz to eight offensive rebounds.
"Their 3-point shots killed us out there and offensive rebounding hurt us tonight," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "We're not executing and we're going to have to adjust."
Looking comfortable as the focal point of Jackson's triangle offense, Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal had 13 rebounds and scored 23 points, including 15 in the first half as he set up Rice and the other shooters.
"We had some big shots," said Jackson, whose .730 winning percentage is the best in NBA history. "They were trying to drop off the shooters and cover Shaq and the corners were wide open."
Fisher finished with 12 points.
Stockton had 15 points and eight rebounds, while Karl Malone scored 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field. The Jazz trailed 43-36 at halftime after shooting 36 percent.
Jackson struck poses familiar from his years in Chicago, except now he was on the Lakers bench as he leaned forward in his seat with his elbows on his knees or stuck his fingers into his mouth to whistle at his players.
By the midpoint of the second quarter, Jackson's voice was hoarse from barking at the Lakers. But when he wanted his team to get going, Rice, Fisher or O'Neal found a way to answer.
After Utah scored the first two baskets of the first half to trim its deficit to 43-40, Jackson called a timeout. The Lakers responded with a 11-4 run for a 54-44 lead that they narrowly maintained throughout the second half.
The Jazz pulled within 84-82 with one minute remaining when Stockton scored on a feed from Bryon Russell. But again, Fisher hit a 3-pointer, this one with 42.2 seconds left to make it 87-82.
"I knew at some time during the night I would get those looks," Fisher said. "I definitely didn't think it would come in that situation, but it came when it came."
After Stockton's 20-foot jumper, the Jazz got a final chance to tie but Pete Chilcutt missed on a wide-open 3-point attempt with 11 seconds left. Ron Harper, who played for Jackson in Chicago, sealed the win with two late free throws.
Jackson started his career with the Lakers in the building where he ended his years with the Bulls. At the Delta Center, Michael Jordan's steal and jumper beat the Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
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