The Utah Jazz (42-15) finish off an away-and-away against the LA Lakers (35-22) tonight, again in the Staples Center. Surprisingly, this game against the Lakers is also televised nationally on ESPN, a strange move given that Saturday’s game was also televised. Neither Lebron James nor Anthony Davis back will be back for this game, despite rumors that Davis might return earlier than his Thursday April 22nd target date. The Jazz are still also a bit beat up, with Donovan Mitchell, Elijah Hughes, and Udoka Azubuike still out and a number of reported nagging injuries to Ersan Ilyasova, Mike Conley, and Derrick Favors. At least the Jazz look to be healthier and more competitive after a Saturday’s overtime loss, with Rudy and Mike expected to play tonight. It seems like the Jazz want to win just enough games to maintain flexibility over the 1st or 2nd seed (to avoid the Lakers as much as possible in the playoffs), but are still hedging their bets against a Lakers drop in the standings.
When: 8PM MDT
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: KZNS/KTUB, KSPN/KWKW-LAL
Projected Starting Lineups
UTAH: G: Mike Conley G: Joe Ingles F: Bojan Bogdanovic F: Royce O’Neale C: Rudy Gobert
LAL (predicted): G: Dennis Schroder G: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope F: Kyle Kuzma F: Markieff Morris C: Andre Drummond
What to watch for
The Lakers team has surprisingly effective as of late, despite the mishmash of players and buy-outs. In the month since Lebron’s injury on March 20th, the Lakers have gone an even 7 wins and 7 losses. A part of that has been the significant contributions of Andre Drummond, who was picked up after being bought out by the Cavs. Of course, the Lakers being the Lakers, they pick up a four-time league rebounding leader and two time All-Star in his physical prime, for less than a veteran’s minimum contract. (Did you know he’s only 27 still?) With Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors out on Saturday, Drummond feasted with 27 points and 8 rebounds, putting Ersan Ilyasova and Juwan Morgan in significant foul trouble (the former fouling out). While the pressure on him to score is significantly less than during his leading-man tenure on the Pistons, he’s still put up 20 and 11 on the Nets and 15 and 12 on the Heat earlier this month, teams with solid big men. With old man Ersan Ilyasova doubtful due to left hamstring tightness, the Jazz likely will not be able to pull him away from the boards in a five-out look, so even with Rudy Gobert likely back for this game, Drummond (along with pressure from Montrezl Harrell) will put tremendous pressure on both sides of the basket.
The Guards Matchup
Dennis Schroder and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope both went off for 25 in Saturday’s game - clearly when Rudy’s not in the game, the “corral to the basket” strategy is not a viable one, and the Jazz have a hard time adapting their perimeter defense. In an overtime game, it was disappointing to see Jordan Clarkson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and Joe Ingles play 46, 40, 40, and 39 minutes respectively on the second night of a back to back. While there was a day of rest for this game, I would have loved to see more minutes for Miye Oni in particular, who would help the Jazz so much more defensively instead of the duds we’re getting from Trent Forrest and Matt Thomas. Even if Quin sees Miye as more a wing, the Lakers’ bigger guards (KCP, Talen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso) would be an excellent matchup for Miye, especially as the Jazz have a habit of letting opposing guards go off. Of course, having Mountain Mike back will provide much more creativity and defense as well.