On Tap: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  December 1, 2005

My biggest concern is about this game is the Lakers catch whatever injury bug Utah has.

Not that plenty of Lakers haven’t missed games (George, Walton, Kwame, etc.), but key Jazz cog Carlos Boozer has yet to step on the court, while Andrei Kirilenko has played only eight of the team’s 15 games so far (he should be in the lineup tonight). The result is a 6-9 Utah team that has had rookie Deron Williams as the leading scorer the last two games, which is bad news, according to the Salt Lake Tribune:

Utah is 5-2 when (Mehmet) Okur is its leading scorer, and 1-7 when it is someone else. More intriguing, the Jazz are 6-2 when Okur attempts 15 or more shots, and 0-7 when he does not.

The Jazz are dead last in the league in offense this season, averaging 98.4 points per 100 possessions (2.4 points worse than the Lakers, and we know how ugly their offense has been). As a team, the Jazz are shooting just 44% eFG% (Laker fans, don’t laugh, your team is at 44.7%). If AK-47 gets back into form Utah may improve, but so far their best player has been Okur, who is averaging 21 points per 40 minutes while shooting 53.7% from the field. Williams has been solid as the rookie point guard, averaging 17.5 points and 6.3 assists per 40 minutes. After that, the offensive options are limited.

What is keeping the Jazz respectable is their defense — it’s 10th in the league, however the Lakers are fifth. (Note to you betters out there, two teams with questionable offenses and good defenses, take the under.)

Neither team has played great of late, both are 3-7 in their last 10. The Jazz are coming off losses to Indiana and Golden State, the Lakers to San Antonio and New Jersey.

One team is going to get enough offense tonight from their star to get the win and come out optimistic. The thing is the Lakers fans have reason for optimism because, despite all the problems, the Lakers are playing better than their record indicates— their Pythagorean record is 7-6 (based on points scored versus points given up). The Jazz are playing at their level, 6-9. This would be a nice win for the Lakers, starting a tough stretch with a lot of games away from home with a win.

to On Tap: The Utah Jazz

  1. Awesome site!

    I have a comment regarding your use of Pythagorean record in basketball. My hypothesis is that the Pythagorean record is less predictive in basketball than it is in baseball.

    Close games in baseball really do come down to luck most of the time. It is almost pure luck if a hitter comes to the plate in the 4th inning with 2 runners on and hits a homerun versus coming to the plate again in the 7th with nobody on and striking out. That said, a good closer can arguably win you a few close games. Even there, however, in baseball you generally win games by outscoring your opponents.

    Basketball, however, is different. Being able to manage the clock, work for the final shot, control tempo, and [arguably] make clutch shots are all matters of skill.

    One of the reasons Phil Jackson has been so successful is because his teams always seem to win the close games. In past seasons, if the Lakers are within 5 points with 2 minutes to play then I’d bet anybody on the outcome. This year is different.

    In sum, it’s nice that the Lakers have a respectable Pythagorean record but we aren’t a good basketball team if we don’t win those close games because good basketball teams win close games.


  2. lakers just can’t seem to catch a break in their schedule. the bulls beat the spurs for their first home loss in over half a year, so we knew going in their team would be focused. kirilenko’s coming back eliminating thoughts of a possible cakewalk. then tomorrow they got to play the wolves who just got their stellar home record tainted by the clippers. oh wait, it’s a home game tomorrow right?

    i hope everyone grabbed lamar after the last game and shook him real good and said THAT’S IT! FROM NOW ON, PLAY LIKE THAT! he was awesome.

    and no, no one should expect 27 points a game. and yeah, like lamar said after the game, he missed some easy opportunities and free throws. meaning he would’ve had 30+ points– which also means he can take advantage more of passing opportunities if they present themselves instead and still be a major scorer.

    and while i guess that wouldn’t qualify as a game where both lamar and kobe each played well– it was a game where they both got 25+ shots. and other lakers weren’t exactly starving for attempts. in a low scoring game.


  3. Lakers will beat the Jazz. I’m glad they didn’t pull the trade for Boozer. As good as he can be, I don’t think replacing Kwame, or Caron for that matter, with Boozer, would’ve made an appreciable difference in the team’s record.

    What we need is a top-flight player. Boozer, for all his mid-level scoring and rebounding prowess, is not that.

    Hey – bring on George Lynch and Latrell Sprewell!


  4. I liked Phil’s comment after the SA game saying that even though they lost they could “look themselves in the mirror.”

    Phil’s challenge still seems to be in getting Kobe not to force shots and trust his teammates. Without KB on the floor for the first 6:30 od the fourth quarter, the Lakers held even with the Spurs. Kobe comes back and there goes the offense.

    Also liked Phil’s comments about the starters being on a “short leash”. Kobe, too?


  5. Derek, that’s an interesting argument. I agree that clutch play in hoops is less about luck, and it’s something tht 82games even tracks seperately. Still, by the end of the year in hoops teams tend to end up pretty close to their Pythagorean records. It’d be interesting to see how teams that were farthest off from that last season did in the clutch. That might be something I can look up when I have time (Lord knows when that will be, however).

    Gatinho, getting Kobe to give up the ball is only part of the problem, no body else is being a steady offensive option. Kobe needs to trust his teammates more, but someone needs to step and earn that trust for a change.


  6. I agree. Kobe and Phil are probably in agreement that it is trust that needs to be earned and not given.

    What a conundrum/Catch-22/snake eating its own tail type problem.


  7. “Basketball, however, is different. Being able to manage the clock, work for the final shot, control tempo, and [arguably] make clutch shots are all matters of skill.”

    These are skills, but they’re overwhelmed by luck in the small samples the NBA deals in. If you played a thousand games, yeah, Pythagorean differences will be meaningful, but over 82 games that doesn’t happen.

    If you look at the theory in practice last year, it doesn’t look that bad. The “lucky” teams were generally good, though no team exceeded its Pythagorean record by more than the mediocre New Jersey Nets.

    Meanwhile, San Antonio was the second “unluckiest” team in the league. The Spurs were 9-8 in games decided by three points or less, Detroit 8-8.

    Also, if you look at it, Pythagorean differences don’t hold the next season. I’m pretty sure that point differential is generally a better predictor of record the following season than simple wins and losses. If clutch play showed up, that wouldn’t be the case.


  8. egh, i didn’t like that game from the get-go. taking that many shots and being flawless from behind the arc and still seeing the lead dwindle away? that was a sign.

    hard to crack on lamar with all the perfection going on early, even though i still didn’t like those close offensive rebounds going all the way out to the 3 point line for some of his assists. a little too much reliance from long range took him out of his game, or at least the game he played tuesday. he was back to his old mode for most of the game.

    plus kirilenko is one of those rare players who can cover him well.

    sasha with the nerves of steel… wow. you must really be proud, kurt.