Lakers/Jazz and Other Thoughts

Kurt —  April 30, 2008

First things first, I still expect the Lakers will meet the Jazz in the next round, but Friday night will be an interesting contest. What little I saw of the Jazz/Rockets game (my DVR skills are apparently worse than Doc Rivers coaching skills) seemed to consist of a desperate and motivated Rockets team against a complacent Utah squad. Maybe that is youth, but maybe you don’t want to give the Rockets a glimmer of hope. We learn a lot Friday night about the Jazz team’s constitution.

Much like the Denver series, I wanted to look back at the previous matchups this year between the Lakers and Utah. And, like Denver, I’m not sure the matchups are terribly instructive because both teams are very different than the first meetings — that includes Utah, which before last night was playing better defense in the playoffs than I had seen in the regular season. Still, here is a look back at the contests.

November 4, 119-109 Lakers. It was the second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz and they faded in the fourth quarter, LA pulled away with a 17-7 run. Kobe led the way, with 33 points, a +13 and he shot an incredible 71% (eFG%). But it was Andrew Bynum that really impressed in one of his early break-out performances shooting 85% and ending a +14, while Jordan Farmar was +11 and shot 68.8% off the bench. The Lakers bench was key in this win.

November 30, 120-96 Jazz. It was the third game in four nights for the Lakers. Utah took the lead midway through the first quarter, led by as much as 28 and crushed the Lakers. The Jazz, without Boozer and Okur, completely outworked the Lakers on the boards and doing the little things like going for loose balls. AK-47 completely outplayed Odom, and Laker fans spent much of the day discussing the merits of Odom in the triangle. Bynum was outplayed in the paint. D-Will had 35 and Milsap added 20 on 10 of 14 shooting.

December 28, 123-109 Lakers. A 16-0 run in the first quarter gave the Lakers the lead, they went on to score 75 in the first half and cruised to a win. Kobe led the way with 31 but five other Lakers were in double digits.

March 20, 106-95 Lakers.
The Jazz were on fire, the Lakers were without Pau, and still the Lakers never trailed. Big night in the paint from Ronny, who provided energy in the paint to match Utah. Kobe had 27 (and said he and the team was angry about Utah fans treatment of Fisher), Odom 21 and as a team the Lakers shot 58.8% (eFG%) as a team. It was one of the Lakers better games the Lakers have played this year.

The Lakers have shown the ability to deal with the interior length and athleticism of Utah when they are focused, but Utah has shown resilience and a growing game as well. Utah’s defense was inconsistent at best in the four meetings and the Lakers took advantage — something I think LA can do in the upcoming series, if they can play through getting bumped around. And, the biggest problem for the Jazz is that they have no answer for Kobe — if they treat him as they have done McGrady the Lakers crisp passing will mean open looks for other guys. Maybe that is the way you want to go, make someone else beat you, but ask George Karl what he thinks of that strategy.

There were lots of fantastic thoughts in the comments on the potential matchup (including some great thoughts from Jazz fans), and tomorrow I’ll post a bunch of them. But, we might want to do a little thinking about the Rockets — maybe they have just a 25% chance right now, but after last night how will Utah come out at home? Like I said, Friday is going to be interesting.


Some other playoff thoughts:

• Great stuff from JD Hastings and Laughing Hard, as they combined to put the Suns loss in a poetic form (channeling TS Elliot’s “The Hollow Men”):

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

This is the way the Sun’s Season ends
This is the way the Sun’s Season ends
This is the way the Sun’s Season ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

• The rumors are everywhere that D’Antoni is out. In my view, there needs to be a shake-up because the coach and the GM are not on the same page. And because he was just hired I imagine Kerr stays. That is not meant to knock D’Antoni, who I think is a good coach, but right now there is a clash as to what kind of team the Suns want to be and that is a recipe for disaster. Henry at True Hoop has a great post on the Suns up — as much as they are rivals we are glad to see gone, they deserve credit for helping change the face of the NBA in recent years. Another great post at The Painted Area lays the blame at the owner’s feet (which seems about right).

• Avery Johnson may well end up getting canned in Dallas (UPDATE: He is gone!) , but he is not the biggest problem. That is a poorly-constructed team that now is stuck with Kidd. There needs to be a roster shakeup, working to get pieces that fit. Frankly, the move that would be best is to trade Dampier, but nobody is going to take on that deal (three more years at about $12 mil a year). At least they have Bass, who will come back a beast next year.

• I am pulling for the Hawks, in part because it’s the Celtics and in part because you have to love the gritty underdog that won’t back down. I expect the Celtics will crush them again, but Atlanta is playing with a lot more confidence now. Whatever happens in this series it bodes well for the Hawks going into next year.

• Congrats to Dan Rosenbaum, one of my favorite NBA stat guys (who now has something better to do with his time).