Once again we find our stalwart heroes pitted in battle against a mortal enemy. Well, at least that’s how we see it. I’m not going to mince words, the Jazz are but a minor annoyance to the Lakers right now. After all, in the last 10 games they’ve lost only 3 times. In previous incarnations of this battle of contrasts we’ve had stability and cohesion on our side, which would occasionally tip the balance away from their talent and star power. If our last match up is any indication . . . well . . . let’s just say that it’s not like we’re starting Stockton and Malone anymore. This game isn’t going to be petty.
What’s Going on With the Lakers?
The Lakers are still a serious contender in my book. They are the top team in their division, the third best team in the west, and when all is said and done, can still be one of the top teams in the entire NBA when the 66 game season is finished. Sure, they don’t look so dangerous when you still remember how the Dallas Mavericks played them, but fellas, we’re not the Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers still possess either superior athleticism, or superior length at almost every position. This is evidenced by their commanding lead in offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, and total rebounds. More rebounds = more ball. More ball = more possessions. More possessions = more shots. More shots = ?
It equals more chances to score points. This is still basketball we’re talking about. And you win games by scoring more than the other team. The Lakers have a good formula, and they are sticking with it. They’re also Top 5 in blocks, and are 2nd best in assists. Rebounds and blocks turn into fast breaks – which turns into easy buckets. Mike Brown may not be a Zen master; but he’s still a defensive minded coach with a ton of talented players on his team. And he has guided them to 7 wins in the last 9 games.
Yes, they haven’t won a road game yet this season, but let’s look at the facts: they have only played 3 total road games, two of them being the second game in a back to back set, and two of them were to west playoff teams (@ Denver Nuggets, and @ Portland Trail Blazers). Moreover, Lakers road games in Utah are apparently looking more and more like secondary home games for them. They have a lot of fan support here; and they’ve walked into our gym a number of times and took care of business -- even when we were on a 9 game win streak and playing our best ball in years. They know they can win here. I would be surprised if they did not walk out with a win tonight.
But don’t take it from me, after the jump we see what Blogging All-Star Rey ( @TheNoLookPass , from Forum Blue & Gold, and, duh, The No Look Pass) has to say about the Lakers; while I take a look at our Jazz.
What’s Going on With the Lakers? (Continued)
Here’s what Rey had to say:
"The Lakers have quietly won seven of nine under Mike Brown's guidance. Kobe Bryant just poured in 48 points against Phoenix last night, which makes us wonder if he really still is capable of putting in those kinds of performances since his legs seem to be doing much better. Andrew Bynum is averaging staggering numbers of nearly 18 points and 15 boards. And the defense is holding opponents at 90 PPG, good for third in the league. The team has been nearly counted out as a true contender to the championship this year... but as the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and the Lakers have been very good in that regard. "
"It wasn't much of a competitive game at Staples Center when the Jazz visited the Lakers... but we're now in a different environment. The Jazz have won all five contests at their home floor while the Lakers haven't won outside of Staples Center this season. But Kobe Bryant seems to be on a mission this year. With every critic saying the Lakers can't win it all and that Kobe is "too old"... expect Kobe to come out firing, even if it's a detriment to his own squad." – Rey, @TheNoLookPass
It’s hard not to agree with a guy who knows so much about everything (really, anything from the NBA to the Spice Girls). Kobe has been a beast these last few games. In the last 5 games he has played (rounding up) 37 mins, 36 mins, 41 mins, 38 mins, and 39 mins. That’s 191 minutes in 8 actual days. And in his 38.2 mpg over the five games he’s been pretty productive. He’s put in 180 points, which is nearly a point a minute. Furthermore, it’s 1.34 points per shot. He is killing it right now, getting to the line 9.4 times a game. Kobe is always dangerous. And the Jazz always are accused of fouling. When you mix the two together – you get a guy who has averaged 25.9 ppg against us over more than half a century’s worth of career regular season games. If he’s old and over the hill, what excuse are we going to use when he has his sights set on absolutely undressing Raja Bell tonight?
Kobe is a big enough problem, but there are two bigger ones protecting the paint for the Lakers: Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. We couldn’t even get a shot off in our first game against one of them – going up against two is going to be twice as fun this time around. Jason Kapono missed the game against the Phoenix Suns due to his wife giving birth (Raja had a son as well recently, but he played last night). Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy both missed last night’s game as well – but if they do play, I do expect them to do all the hustle plays that add up to winning basketball. Derrick Caracter is out with a left knee surgery.
This just happened on the twitters...
What’s Going on With the Jazz?
We’re on a mini-streak of 5 wins in a row. I’m proud of our team, we’re super young, super raw, and not comprised to be a contender this year on paper. Al Jefferson is the straw that stirs our drink, but he’s had his hands full with the Lakers over the last few meetings. He shot 12.5 fg% in the last game against them, and last season only shot 40.0 fg% against them. The Utah Jazz are fighting an uphill battle if Big Al is Big Inefficient Al. Furthermore, he has only gone to the free throw line 8 times in the last two seasons against this club. (Aka. Boozer-itis) We can’t afford to worry about that though, the Jazz have to remember that they are playing at home, and be aggressive in the paint. It is, after all, the only place we score from.
Our guards have been less than average this season, and so far we’re only getting success out of one of our wing players a night. The Lakers are taller and more talented than us in the paint. But we have youth, energy, and slightly more depth on our side. Also, our big rotation guys haven’t been playing a lot of minutes – hopefully this time around we push the tempo on the Lakers. We failed to do this in our 1st game of the season (the Lakers third in three nights), hopefully at the 10 game mark we have made some strategic changes . . .
. . . because whatever we did in that first game of the season did not work. I wrote about it at length here, but the only thing you really need to know is that we got housed when they were tired, and playing without one starter (Andrew Bynum). And the final score, after easing up on the gas pedal, was still Lakers 96 – Jazz 71. What has changed since then? We’re a better team, but they are still more talented. They have some injuries, but still have the best player in the game today on their team.
I have a lot of respect for the Lakers. My first introduction to basketball and the NBA was when I lived in Los Angeles in 1984. If you wanted to fall in love with a sport, and a league with the best players in the world, being in LA during Showtime was very fertile ground. Sadly, being a Jazz fan has left me with a lot of heart ache and disappointment with how the games between the Lakers and my Jazz go. We’re a good young team that doesn’t know when they are supposed to lose. But the Lakers are a smart old team that knows how to win games. Tip off is at 7:00 mountain standard time.