Preview and Chat: The Utah Jazz

Darius Soriano —  April 1, 2011

Records: Lakers 54-20 (2nd in West), Jazz 36-39 (11th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 111.9 (2nd in NBA), Jazz 108.3 (11th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.6 (6th in NBA), Jazz 110.2 (23rd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Earl Watson, C.J. Miles, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Kyrylo Fesenko 
Injuries: Lakers: Devin Ebanks (out); Jazz: Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Memhet Okur, Ronnie Price (all out)

UPDATE: Via Mike Trudell’s twitter account, Matt Barnes has been suspended one game for “escalating an on court altercation”. He’ll serve his suspension tonight and thus will not suit up against the Jazz. This certainly affects the Lakers’ rotation as now the team will either slide Kobe up to SF with Shannon playing increased minutes or Luke Walton will see the court for meaningful minutes. Considering this is the 2nd night of a back to back for the Lakers, I would anticipate we see a bit of both these options play out. We may also see a three guard line up with Fisher, Blake, and Brown all sharing the court, but that’s less likely.

As mentioned below, this was something that I expected. By the time Barnes made his way over to the skirmish, the refs had already moved in and seemed to be close to separating everyone. Barnes threw a monkey wrench in that plan by jumping into the fray and shoving Terry. Obviously, the league felt that this was a suspendable act and tonight he and the Lakers pay for it.

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Are Suspensions Coming?: With the Lakers playing as well as they have been, this really is the question of the day. Let’s face it, Blake did what most players would do in that situation by confronting Terry – doing so non violently, I might add – and standing up for himself. I doubt Blake sees any sort of punishment beyond a fine and even that may not be levied as players are already fined for technical fouls. But, what Barnes did was different. The referees had already stepped in and were in the process of breaking up the incident and Barnes came in to the fray and shoved Terry. This no doubt escalated the situation by getting more players riled up and ultimately causing an assistant coach to get shoved to the ground. While Barnes’ act is one that’s happened many times over the years, it doesn’t change the fact that he could be viewed as someone that kept this skirmish going, with the league coming down on him for it. Don’t get me wrong, I like Barnes sticking up for his teammate. I like the fact that he’s willing to come in and move people out of the way when they commit a dirty play (and Terry did commit a dirty play). That said, it doesn’t change the fact that he could have come in and played a peace maker but instead jumped into the fray as a combatant. Normally, the league doesn’t take kindly to that. We’ll update this post as we get news.

The Jazz Coming in: The question is often asked if the NBA is a coaches or a players league. People argue back and forth and cite that only a handful of coahces have actually won championships in the past 20 years but then those on the other side of the argument cite the players on those rosters as being the reason behind the wins. Personally, I’ve always said that you need both because only having one side will get you far but likely not all the way to the mountain top. Meanwhile a team that has both great coaching and great players consistently challenge for the title.

I bring all this up because earlier this season the Jazz, while not an elite team, definitely had a great coach and one great player. However, now Jerry Sloan has retired and Deron Williams is a member of Nets and they have none in either category. Needless to say, the fortunes of this team have changed and the Jazz are no longer a good team and will likely miss the playoffs for the first time in 4 seasons and only the 6th time in 30 years.

This isn’t to put down Ty Corbin or Al Jefferson (now the head coach and best player respecitvely) but this team has fallen back and is now just another bad team. Since Sloan retired the Jazz are 5-16 and since Williams was traded they’re 5-13. Overall, they’ve lost 8 of 10 and 6 straight including an overtime loss to the Wizards on Wednesday. Despite good play from Jefferson and Millsap and signs of growth from rookie Derrick Favors (the prize of the Williams trade) this team has been rendered pretty much irrelevant.  I’d say more, but it would just be piling on.

Jazz Blogs: Check out Salt City Hoops for great coverage of this team.

Keys to game: As I just mentioned, Utah isn’t a good team. Beyond that, some of their better players will miss this game with various ailments. Simply looking at this game from this perspective, the Lakers should win and there’s little else that needs to be said.

However, the games aren’t played on paper and even if they were the Jazz still have some capable players to deal with. It starts up front where the Jazz look to match the Lakers’ strength by super-sizing their starting line up. According to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune, the Jazz will start Millsap at SF, Jefferson at PF, and Fesenko at Center. This will cause some interesting match ups as the Lakers will now need to contend with a lot of size up front and guys that do well in clogging the paint on both sides of the ball.

And in a way, this all makes sense. Jefferson is ill-suited to play against Bynum and the Millsap/Gasol match up would be even worse for the Jazz. This shift better prepares the Jazz to deal with the post play of Gasol and Bynum and also should improve their rebounding. All that said, the Lakers can still take advantage of these match ups and should still look to pound the Jazz in the paint early and often. Gasol and Bynum both have skill and size advantages over their men and both are more than capable of scoring in post up situations. Gasol especially should be able to isolate on the weak side and create solid scoring opportunities both when at the elbow and the low block.

Outside the bigs, however, this should also be a game where Kobe can take advantage of his match up. C.J. Miles offers good size, but he’s not often matched up much with Kobe and green defenders who aren’t used to dealing with the variety that Kobe offers often find themselves in poor positions when faced with #24’s entire arsenal. I expect to see a lot of attacking from Kobe both off the bounce and in the post where he can use his full array of pivots, hesitation dribbles, and fakes to get good looks at the hoop and score efficiently.

If there’s one other thing I’ll be watching closely tonight it will be the play of rookie Derrick Favors. This kid is young, athletic, and strong with comparisons to Dwight Howard already bestowed upon him. He finishes above the rim and hits the glass hard and I’ll be interested in seeing how he deals with the versatility and talent he’ll face in LA’s big men. It may end up being trial by fire, but considering his draft position and who the Jazz gave up to get him, I’m interested in seeing what he’s capable of.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on KCAL locally and ESPN nationally. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.

Darius Soriano

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