I'm very proud that our Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Last year we did not get out of the first round. Both attempts were limited by injuries to two starters. The difference this time, besides the difference a year makes, happens to be who the opponent was.
Simply put: the Lakers are not the Nuggets
Many people don't know that the Jazz are 14-13 all-time vs. the LA Lakers in the playoffs. (Lakers winning series 3 out of 5 times though . . . ) Of course, 11 of those 14 wins happened during the Stockton-Malone Era. The Lakers are looking to knock the Jazz out of the playoffs for a third year in a row. They may do just that - despite the Jazz being a 'feelgood' story of the West playoffs so far.
Click on to hear why . . .
1. Their head coach (the $en master) is there, and ready to wrangle in all their strong personalities. Furthermore, he's known to leave little hits to the refs (via the press) how to call the games. He's miles ahead of Adrian Dantley in working the refs in-game, and making in-game adjustments. The Lakers will not lose their focus, composure, or collect a number of technical fouls in a close-out game.
2. The Lakers (so far in the playoffs) have played six games. So have the Jazz. (And, well, the Nuggets). Over that span the Lakers went 96-139 from the free throw line (69.1%). Utah, on the other hand, went 163-228 from the free throw line (71.5%). Clearly how the Jazz-Lakers series is going to be ref'd differently. Utah players are not going to be able to draw so many fouls against the precious Lakers. Additionally, it may appear as though the Lakers games were played with the refs not blowing the whistle. This *should* benefit the Jazz - allowing Utah to play a more physical defense; however we all know this is not the case. Utah will be whistled like they were in the Denver series, while the Lakers will be whistled like they were in the OKC series. In plain English, the whistles will not be equally bad, they will favor the Lakers.
3. The Jazz were able to mask their lack of depth by playing guys big minutes. This is not going to be the case as our best players will be in foul trouble against the Lakers. (see #2)
4. Furthermore, Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap killed it in the Denver series because they were up against guys in their physical/athletic range (Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen). In games against the Lakers both of these guys have failed to produce in the way that they do against other teams. A big reason for this is the fact that the Lakers bigs are just in a different world when it comes to size and athletic ability. Gasol is tall and agile. Bynum is tall and strong. Odom is long and quick. All of them are taller than Millsap and Boozer. And this size disparity makes life hard for the Jazz on offense *and* on defense. Of course, I've diagramed this problem before.
5. In the Denver series their best player (Carmelo Anthony) played amazingly on offense, but ultimately was not the best player in the series (that would be Deron Williams). As great as Carmelo is, he is no Kobe. Kobe Bryant is the best player in the universe at this time of the year. He knows how to kill the Jazz - some would say he's made a career out of it. Kobe is the best player in this series. This will be a big deal.
6. The Nuggets were the worst road team out of the 8 Western Conference playoff teams. Of course, the Lakers have no trouble winning in Salt Lake City. Whenever the Jazz go on a huge run at home, they've been there to break our streak. Even in the playoffs, where the Jazz are even better at home, they have displayed little trouble winning here.
7. In Game 5 the Nuggets really found holes in the Jazz defense with their passing. Thankfully they only did that in one game of the series. The Lakers are one of the best passing teams in the league, and even their passing in the paint between bigmen rivals that of the Jazz. We're a great passing team because we play team ball. They are a great passing team because they learn to exploit the defense.
8. Despite getting hot in Game 1 and having a solid game in Game 5 - J.R. Smith is unreliable. The guys off the Lakers bench who will be open and shooting threes are reliable. Maybe they aren't going to score 20 points on jumpers, but they'll show up every game and make us pay for having to double down low.
9. Deron Williams eveserated anyone in his path in this series. The only thing that slowed him down was foul trouble in Game 6. During this series he's going to end up seeing a steady diet of Derek Fisher (strong and floppy), Shannon Brown (quick and athletic), and during money time Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant. Denver did not throw any long guys at Deron, but the Lakers will.
10. The Lakers are in the heads of our players -- and fans.