We know that tonight is going to be tough — the Jazz have been taking some heat from their fans about the quality of their play and effort. Boozer, in particular and despite being injured, is getting a lot of flack.
The Lakers are going to have to play their best game yet, and here are a few areas I think they need to focus on to get the win.
1) Withstand the initial onslaught. The Jazz have had two terrible first quarters against the Lakers, that will not be the case tonight at home. They will be fired up. If the Lakers are close at the end of one and are not having to dig out of a hole, I’ll feel a lot better about this game.
2) Better defense. The Lakers have played great defense in spurts, followed by indifferent defense at other times. Tonight they have to be more consistent. Also, the Jazz started going to more pick-and-roll — the classic Malone/Stockton play — with D-Will and Boozer last game and had some success with it, so expect a much more heavy diet of it tonight. (No Okur again tonight, according to reports.) The Lakers bigs have to show out on Williams, then recover quick to Boozer, the Lakers defenders must take away his preferred driving lanes and steer him to the help defenders. He is going to get his, but make him work for it and don’t let anyone else go off.
UPDATE: Here’s a video of Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons talking pick-and-roll and the Jazz.
3) More Gasol and Bynum on the block. The Jazz tried to take away the Lakers biggest advantage in this series by doubling Bynum and doing some fronting and throwing more looks at Gasol. The problem is, when it got hard the Lakers have gotten away from exploiting their mismatches in this series. They need to be smart about the entry pass and quickly reversing the ball and setting up the post pass on the opposite side. Bottom line, tonight they will need to be more focused.
4) Keep hitting those threes. The Lakers are hitting from beyond the arc at a crazy 51.4% pace in this series. If the Jazz are going to make stopping the ball in the paint the priority, they have to give something up and the Lakers need to make them pay.
Last year the Lakers dropped games three and four in Utah. This is not last year’s Lakers team (or last year’s Jazz team, for that matter) but you don’t want to give them hope. Now is the time to crush their spirits.
If you’re looking for something to do while waiting for the 7:30 tip off (Channel 9 in LA and TNT here and nationally) check out this Roto Experts podcast, which for the playoffs is just some straight analysis. And some good playoff talk.