Records: Lakers 16-3 (1st in West) Jazz 12-8 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 108.7 (12th in league) Jazz 110.3 (6th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 100 (3rd in league) Jazz 106.7 (17th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Deron Williams, Wesley Mathews, Ronnie Brewer, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur
The Lakers Coming in: In case you missed the news: Kobe Bryant missed the Lakers shootaround this morning, unable to leave his house thanks to some armed gunmen in the development. But don’t worry, not even armed gunmen can keep him from a game.
The Lakers are finally getting some good tests, which is a good thing. The Lakers rose to the occasion against the Heat and Suns (well, barely against the Heat but we’ll take it), but these two games in the next four days against the Jazz, along with the upcoming road trip, are good things. Simply put, you can’t sharpen a knife against a soft sponge, you need a hard stone. The Lakers look good but not June good, they need to get sharper as the year goes on. They need this kind of competition.
On another note, there will be some changes in the Lakers broadcast booth for upcoming games. On the radio, Mychal Thompson will miss games because of the death of his mother, so Luke Walton will fill in. On the television side, Stu Lantz will be out from December 11-20to help his wife through a surgery, so “Hot” Rod Hundley (who played for the Lakers and was a color guy next to Chick Hearn many, many years ago) will fill in. Our best go out to Mychal and Stu, as well as their families.
By the way, did you know Hundley has his number retired as a Laker? He wore 33 in Los Angeles. Sure the jersey hanging in the rafters says Abdul-Jabbar over the name, but it’s Hundley’s number.
The Jazz Coming in: It’s snowing in Salt Lake City, so the Jazz may be happy to get away from that. But as they have lost a dozen straight games to the Lakers at Staples, they may not be that happy to be here. They are also very banged up — no Andrei Kirilenko (at least not expected to play), no Kyle Korver, no Ronnie Price, no Matt Harpring.
They still do have Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, and those two are the heart of the Jazz now. Boozer gets overlooked in the discussion of the best power forwards in the league but he was on the Olympic team with good reason and he is having another good season — 21.2 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 61.6% and he is grabbing 18.7% of he available rebounds when he is on the floor. He can step out and hit the midrange (from 10 feet out he is taking about 7 shots a game and shooting 46.5%).
Then there is Deron Williams, one of the best point guards in the league. He can shoot — 34% from three and 52% from 16-feet out to the arc. He also can get to the rim. And he sees the floor well and passes beautifully — 9 assists per game, and 4 of those are guys at the rim, he is getting them easy baskets.
One other guy to watch off the bench a little is Eric Maynor, Williams backup. There is a lot of potential there. Maynor has struggled with his shot so far but I’ve seen him play and you have to like the way he runs the floor.
Blogs and links: Check out Salt City Hoops.
Keys to game: No team in the NBA executes its offense better than the Jazz. Everybody on the planet knows what they are going to do — it’s the same offense that Stockton and Malone ran. Yet the Jazz are sixth in the league in offensive efficiency because they execute it well.
The basic action of the offense is a pick near the elbow, something they run to either side of the floor. D-Will usually is the ball handler, and Boozer or sometimes Okur set the pick. D-Will makes it hard because he is smart and will go away from the pick if the defense commits too early, he will go through the pick then reset it and come back the other way, he can pull up for a midrange jumper or dive to the hoop. Boozer (and Okur) can both roll to the basket or pop out (Okur loves the pop). The other guys space the floor on the weak side well for catch-and-shoot chances, plus there are a lot of motions and cuts away from the ball, far more than most teams. It leads to a lot of back-door chances if teams fall asleep.
The Lakers defenders need to be disciplined — bigs need to show out and recover, guards have to fight through the picks fast, the weak-side defender needs to be ready for the roll to the hoop. Also, they sometimes throw the ball to Boozer at the elbow and he LOVES to go left. He can go right, but a quick move left is preferred and hard to stop because of his speed.
The Jazz have not been a good defensive team, and with AK-47 out they really lack a good shot blocker to protect the rim. The Lakers need to go at the rim, but they need to expect to get hit — the Jazz are physical inside. They foul a lot (25th most in the league per field goal attempt) but the refs become desensitized and a lot of calls are not made. A few Lakers players have a penchant for whining to the refs, not getting back on defense and losing focus. Drew, I’m looking at you. Keep your head in the game. Expect some bad calls and move on.
One other matchup advantage is that Wesley Mathews is going to have to cover Kobe or Artest — the Lakers should go at that.
Where you can watch: 7:30 start at Staples Center, you can choose between Fox Sports or 710 ESPN radio.