Rather than rewrite everything from the last preview, here are the three things the Lakers need to do the right the wrongs of the loss the other night. They had better, because another close loss with bad execution at the end is sending me into the Glenmorangie bottle.
1) Play better defense. Coming into the game, Utah was shooting 44.5% (eFG%) on the season, they shot 51.4% Sunday night. The Lakers need to play particular attention to Keith McLeod and Andrei Kirilenko, who stepped up against the Lakers. This step alone could win the game.
(By the way, is Kirilenko the most gaunt player in the NBA right now?)
2) Get better bench play. We knew the Lakers were thin, even before Kobe went down, but the bench did the Lakers in. The starters were fine, we got good play from Cook (8 of 10 from the field and +5) and solid outing from Lamar Odom, Smush and Chris Mihm. But Sasha was -10 and Kwame -5, and it was when bench player had to step up that the Lakers fell back.
While were talking bench players, letâ€™s talk about the Von Wafer experiment. First, donâ€™t play him and Sasha together again, that was a defensive disaster (Wafer was -6 in just 6 minutes of play). He drew a few fouls but missed the open looks he got. Personally, Iâ€™d play him a little in the second quarter again, kind of a heat check because he is the kind of player who could get hot for a night. But, when the roster gets closer to full again at the guard spot, I think Wafer could benefit from the D-League, getting used to the speed of the pro game and playing within a team structure.
3) As mentioned before, execute at the end of the game. And that is at both ends of the floor. The game Sunday was tied with 3:21 left (D. Georgeâ€™s jumper) and from there on in the Lakers were outscored 10-6 (but two of those were on a meaningless George dunk as time ran out). From that tied point on the Jazz has a true shooting percentage of 62.5%, the Lakers 33.3%. Mihm and Odom missed good inside looks, Walton threw the ball away, George was 2 of 4 from the free throw line. Those kind of things canâ€™t all happen in three minutes.
This is a chance for this team to grow without Kobeâ€™s shadow blocking out the sun â€” and taking all the shots away from them. They need to step up to the challenge. These are the games where you learn who should come back as this team builds for the future.