Round 2 Extended Preview: The Utah Jazz

Darius Soriano —  May 1, 2010

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Bynum Update: Via the twitter feed of Mike Trudell (Lakers Reporter for Lakers.com) the MRI on Bynum’s knee show a “small tear of the anterior horn of the lateral miniscus” and that “this is something that he will try to play through”. Trudell also says that “last June, Bynum had a very small tear in this same area and that the hyper-extension re-aggravated it”. Bynum is officially listed as questionable for game one, though the consensus seems to be that he’s going to try and give it a go.  Here is the official word from Lakers.com.

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As I mentioned in the game 6 recap, there is no rest for the weary as the Lakers start their second round series against the Utah Jazz on only one days rest.  And while the same can be said for Utah (who also closed out there 1st round series last night), they had the advantage of winning their game at home.  So, as Phil Jackson said in the post game presser “(the Jazz) get to go home to their own beds” while the Lakers got to board a plane and fly back to Los Angeles.  However, there won’t be any looking backwards for the Lakers nor any complaints, the Jazz are the opponent and it’s time to focus on the matter at hand – beating Utah on Sunday to get that very critical first game win.

Before we get into the meat of the match up with the Jazz, a little history on the season series.  The Lakers won the 3 of the 4 games against Utah in the regular season.  In the three victories, the Lakers won by 24, 15, and 14 points.  In their lone defeat, the Lakers lost by 8.  Over the course of those games, a few themes shone through:  First is the fact that the Lakers do a very good job defending Carlos Boozer.  Aside from his breakout game in April where he scored 20 points (8-16 FGA) and grabbed 18 rebounds (4 offensive) in a loss, Boozer didn’t fare well against the Lakers shooting only 39% (15-38) and averaging 11.3 points in those three contests (including a 6-9 effort for 12 points in the lone Jazz win).  Second was that the Lakers controlled the glass against the Jazz, winning the rebounding battle in every contest (and grabbing double digit offensive rebounds in all but one game).  The third theme was that despite Deron Williams being a match up nightmare for the Lakers (more on him later), he never had that huge game where he single handedly destroyed us (like he did against Denver in their first round series).  He got his numbers – averaging a shade over 17 points and almost 10 assists – but he was not the threat that you would think he would be considering he was matched up almost exclusively against our PG’s (Fish, WOW, Farmar) – not guys that you’d exactly label “stoppers” on that end of the floor.

So, how does this translate to the playoffs?  First, we must examine the state of each team.  Right now, Utah is banged up.  In game one of the Denver series, Memhet Okur ruptured his achilles tendon and is out until sometime next season.  Andrei Kirilenko has also missed a lot of time recently, playing in only one of the Jazz’s last twenty games with a strained calf.  Odds are he’ll be back in this series, but in what physical condition remains to be seen.  You add these injuries to the trade deadline deal that shipped out Ronnie Brewer, and the Jazz aren’t the same team that the Lakers have faced in the regular season nor in playoffs the last two years.  But the biggest injury of all may be one that  we don’t yet have a lot of information on.  In the closing minutes of last night’s game game 6, Deron banged his arm against Chris Andersen and suffered what is being reported as a bruised left elbow.  Will that injury bother him in this series?  The answer to that question will play a big role in this series.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are still awaiting the results of the MRI on Andrew Bynum’s right knee.  Hyper-extension is never a word that I like to hear, but hopefully his post game thoughts on the matter hold true and he’ll be okay to play.  Then there is the injury to Sasha.  Most would agree that Vujacic is only a fringe player at this point and his absence is not that big a concern.  However, tuck it away in the back of your mind: Phil loves match ups and over the past two seasons he’s used Sasha as an irritant to sharp shooting Jazz man Kyle Korver.  So, if Kyle starts to break free and nail some jumpers, missing Sasha could be a bigger deal than many might be thinking right now.

But enough about the regular season, injuries, and trends.  This series starts tomorrow and we need to break this baby down.  There are many keys to this series and we’ll hopefully touch on many of them over the next week (we’ll definitely have time based off the schedule for this series).  So, I’ll let Zephid lay out some of the keys of this series (with some additional note from yours truly):

1.) Control the passing lanes.

Utah is far and away #1 in assist ratio at 17.9 (the closest is Boston at 16.7), and for comparison, the Lakers are 16th at 14.8, tied with Philadelphia. A lot of this has to do with Deron Williams and his ridiculous 10.5 assists pergame, but the Jazz are just a good passing team in general, averaging 26.7 a game as a team.

However, that comes with a flip side. Utah also has one of the highest turnover ratios, 26th in the league at 24.8 (by comparison, the Lakers are 5th with 22.1). Those great interior passes that Utah’s flex offense is so good at producing are also high risk passes in traffic, so it’s up to our bigs to get their hands out to disrupt passes.

The X’s and O’s of this series have been on display for 20 some odd years.  Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson have been running these same sets since the mid to late 80’s so don’t expect anything different from a schematic standpoint.  As Zephid lays out here, the Jazz are going to run their flex sets and the Lakers must stay disciplined in their defense and not gamble for steals (for risk of being back cut) while still having active hands in the passing lanes (especially in off the ball screen actions where the Jazz like to play “games” of screeners opening up to the ball and cut to the hoop).  If the Lakers can disrupt the timing of the Jazz sets and turn them into an isolation team of Boozer going up against Gasol/Odom/Bynum or Williams trying to create against our entire set defense, the Lakers will go a long way in successfully slowing the Jazz’s offense.

2.) Force Deron Williams to shoot mid-range jumpers.

As we all know, Williams is pretty much the total package on offense: he’s quick, strong, can finish in traffic, and shoots a decent percentage from three (37.1%). However, if there weakness in his game, it is mid-range shooting. According to HoopData, Williams has shot just 32.8% from 10-15 ft this season. Like Russell Westbrook, we need to wall off the paint and force him to be a jump shooter. However, we need to stay up closer when Williams is further out, because he is still a threat from distance. We will need to achieve some sort of balance to push Williams off the three point line, but not give him open lanes to the paint.

First and foremost, as Zephid says, walling off Williams is the key to slowing him down.  The Lakers can not allow him to get into the paint as this is his #1 goal.  This means getting back in transition, marking him in Utah’s isolation sets, and having a plan for him in the P&R.  After reviewing some of Deron’s stats over at Synergy Sports what I saw is that he has taken almost the same amount of shots in isolation (225), as ball handler in the P&R (218), and coming off screens (197).  That is remarkable balance and a byproduct of Utah’s system.  However, what the video (and numbers) also told me is that he’s actually most effective coming off screens (52% FG) instead of in P&R situations (43.6% FG) and in isolation (41.8% FG).  This means we must make Deron create for himself and entice him to take shots and do so in the areas of the floor that where he’s least effective.  Over the course of the series, we’ll explore this concept more, but going into game 1 this is something to be aware of.

3.) Get the old aggressive Lamar back.

The last two times we played the Jazz, Lamar was starting for Andrew Bynum, and he went absolutely ballistic to the tune of 25 pts, 7-9 shooting, 11-12 FT’s, 11 rebounds in February, and 26 points, 11-14 shooting, 10 rebounds in April. These led to blowouts by 15 and 14 respectively, and the February game was on the Jazz’s home floor, without Kobe. It’s obvious that Odom is going to have a huge speed advantage on whoever guards him in this series (unless Kirilenko comes back and decides Ron Artest isn’t worth guarding). He needs to be aggressive and get in the paint looking to score.

We all know what type of difference maker Odom is for the Lakers.  We’ve seen it all season and got another glimpse in game 6 against OKC.  As Zephid says, Utah is probably the best match up for Odom.  He’s got a quickness over Boozer and a size and length advantage over Millsap.  Even if AK47 does return, I think it’s more likely that he’d see time on Kobe rather than playing Odom, but that remains to be seen.  Odom’s ability to rebound and push the ball will be a major key in the how the Lakers perform in this series.  If the Lakers get the active LO, they’ll have huge match up in their favor whenever he’s on the court.  If he’s only partially engaged, it can really hurt us.  I’m not trying to put the series on the back of Odom, but his advantage in this series is almost as pronounced as those of Kobe and Gasol.

4.) Pau Gasol, as always.

The Lakers went 3-1 this season against Utah, with two blowouts at home, one loss on the road, and one blowout on the road. One of those games was without Kobe, and two of those games were without Bynum. But the common denominator was Pau Gasol beasting all over the Jazz. On offense, Pau had performances of 19 and 12, 16 and 20, 22 and 19, 14 and 16 with 9 assists. In every game, he shot 50% or better, and he also averaged about 5 assists per contest. Like always, we need to get Gasol the ball; Boozer cannot guard him and neither can Millsap. It’s left to be seem if Fesenko’s girth and overall massiveness can deter Gasol, but Gasol probably has a huge speed advantage over Fesenko that he’ll just catch and turn and either shoot a jumper over him or blow past him to the hoop.

There’s really nothing to add on the Gasol front as Zephid pretty much nailed it.  However, he did bring up Fesenko so I just want to say a few words on the man from the Ukraine.  He may be the butt of jokes or looked at as just another unskilled Utah big man, but I’ve got a healthy respect for this player.  He’s built just like Bynum (legit 7 footer with a 7’4″ wingspan) and has a bounce in his legs.  He’s active on defense and on the glass.  Before Nene got hurt, Fesenko was giving him issues on defense with his size and underrated defensive instincts.  The size advantage that the Lakers had with Okur in the line up is erased with Fesenko earning minutes.  That said, he is foul prone and doesn’t have the longest leash from Sloan, but I just wanted to mention that this guy does have me paying attention.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no rest for the Lakers or the Jazz.  Both teams have some injury questions to key players that need to be resolved and both teams are looking to build on their wins on Friday night.  We’ll have more on this series in the game preview tomorrow, but for now, get me your thoughts in the comments – what do you think about the match up with the Jazz?


Darius Soriano

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