Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Kurt —  February 11, 2009

Records: Lakers 42-9 (1st in the West) Jazz 29-23 (tied for 8th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.5 (1st in league) Jazz 110.1 (7th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Jazz 107.4 (14th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Jazz Deron Williams, CJ Miles, Ronnie Brewer, Paul Millsap, Mehmet Okur

Lakers Coming In: Last night was what I would call a “professional win.” It may not be inspired but it’s the kind of win good teams should get. They did not blow the Thunder out so Kobe did not get sit on the bench in the fourth quarter and complain about the music at Staples. But, the Thunder are a pretty good team and to their credit never folded, they kept coming. Secondly, that was the kind of game where a younger Lakers team, a lesser team lets down and ends up with a game decided at the buzzer. The Lakers got a professional win, so I’ll take that.

Of course, after an uninspired game I don’t have a lot to write.

The Jazz Coming In: This is what injuries will do to a team. Before the season, we all thought the Jazz were going to be in the top four teams in the West — but take away Carlos Boozer and AK-47 for long chunks (neither is playing tonight) and you get a much lesser team.

What’s kind of amazing is that the Jazz are an average defensive team this season, and by all accounts have been worse than that lately. Lethargy was the name of the game in a loss to the Warriors on Sunday, at least according to someone who watched the contest. And Jerry Sloan. That said, the Lakers can’t count on that — the Lakers will not get a lethargic opponent against them the rest of the season. The target is on their back.

The other thing that hurts the Jazz defense is that they foul a lot — only four teams send people to the line more often than the Jazz. That was their style in the playoffs, to take teams out of their rhythm by being physical. But the calls have caught up with them in the regular season. Also, surprisingly, they are no a good rebounding team — 25th in the league in defensive rebounding. That is too many easy putbacks for the opposition.

When Boozer first went down Paul Millsap stepped up for small college players everywhere and played like an All Star. But, battling through two sore knees, he is not the same player now — but he is still giving the Jazz 13 and 9 every night in the last 10, shooting 52.5%. He can board.

The one guy who hasn’t let up is Deron Williams. He is averaging 27 points and 10 assists per game, shooting 59% (eFG%) from the floor and getting to the line seven times a game for the Jazz. He remains one of the best PG’s in the game and the Lakers need to be ready and smart about their help on him tonight.

Keys To The Game: Traditionally at this blog we talk Xs and Os as the primary keys to a game. But just as traditionally, the last game before the All Star break has players mailing it in. Coaches mailing it in. Fans mailing it in. Just a lot of mail. One of these teams tonight will show up focused, and the one that does will get the win. That simple.

The Jazz on defense use a “pack-the-paint” strategy, so for once when the Lakers get the ball inside early (via pass to Gasol or penetration from Kobe) kick-outs to open shooters is welcome. In their last 10 games, opponents have shot 38.7% against the Jazz from three. This is a game where Fisher and Sasha among others can have a big night by burying the open looks.

On offense, the Jazz run the pick and roll virtually every time down. Okur creates a bit of a problem in that he can pop so his defender needs to step out. That leaves Millsap’s man to be the help in the paint when D-Will comes charging in, and the Lakers need to be smart about that. One trick may be to go under the pick, force Williams to shoot from the outside, particularly from three (he’s shooting 32.6% from there in his last 10).

The Lakers also need to board — back on Jan. 2 Millsap had 8 offensive rebounds because his man left to help and then nobody boxed him out. Do that on the road and the Jazz get some easy buckets and gain a lot of confidence.

Where you can watch: 6 p.m. start in Utah, on KCAL. Good news as it means this game should be over in plenty of time to watch Top Chef. It’s time for Leah to go home.