Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Josh McRoberts, Pau Gasol
Jazz: Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Al Jefferson
The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers are still looking for a win but will now try to get it playing their third game in three nights. I’m not sure if the schedule makers were being kind or a special kind of evil by putting the Lakers’ lone BTBTB stretch at the start of the season (on the one hand it gets it out of the way; on the other, the Lakers are without Bynum and have a new coach with new schemes to learn on the fly) but either way, here they are. Their legs are surely weary and with rotations still be settled on, the comfort level simply isn’t there yet.
The lone positive that I’ve seen in both the Laker losses is that after halftime they’ve come out playing much better, with improved focus and execution on both ends of the court. Whether that’s a product of coaching adjustments or a good old fashioned ear chewing in the locker room is unknown, but I like how this team is playing in the 2nd half of contests. Now, if they could only close out games a bit better we’d be on our way…
The Jazz Coming in: Where the Lakers are already playing their third contest, tonight will be the first official game for the Jazz. Such are the quirks of a 66 game schedule in a compressed time frame. So, expect the Jazz to have fresh legs and the bounce in their step that comes from finally playing a game that counts.
Also expect to see some new faces for the Jazz as they’re now a completely different team than the one the Lakers faced in the playoffs just a few seasons ago. Last year Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer both went east. This year, Memo Okur and Andrei Kirilenko have joined them. These new Jazz are full of youth with Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward, rookies Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, and Jeremy Evans all looking to make their name in the league. This team still does have a good veteran presence – Devin Harris, Al Jefferson, CJ Miles, and Raja Bell all bring varying levels of experience to the roster, but make no mistake this team is one that’s rebuilding through the draft. If Favors, Kanter, Hayward, and Burks all reach their potential, they’ll have a very good lineup one day. That day just isn’t today.
Keys to game: If there were ever a game where the Lakers need to dictate the terms of the game, this is it. The Jazz will be full of energy and they surely see a wounded, tired Laker team that they can knock down another peg. The Lakers will need to counter this with deliberate offensive sets that slow the pace of the game and take the air out of what the Jazz want to do on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, this means being patient and running coach Mike Brown’s sets all the way through. When the Lakers have the most success on O, they work the ball from side to side, use the screen actions that free Kobe coming to the top of the key and their big men to the strong side post in order to open up all options. L.A. will need to do this on more possessions than they have been in the first two games in order to get the Jazz D moving, get them to scramble, and the attack in the gaps. Obviously this means a heavy dose of Kobe and Gasol in the post and at the elbows, but this is also a game where Ebanks, Barnes, and MWP will need to work the creases of the D and make themselves available for the types of passes that create easy buckets. What I’d like to avoid is the de-evolution into isolation ball that plagued the Lakers down the stretch of both the Chicago and Sacto games. Kobe is to blame for some of this approach, but as it was under Phil Jackson, his teammates are complicit in this approach by giving him the ball and watching him work. The onus is on everyone – Kobe, his teammates, and Mike Brown – to keep the focus on ball and player movement.
Defensively, the Lakers face another speedy guard that will play a lot of P&R basketball with shooters spacing the floor to open up the driving lanes when coming off the screen. The Lakers will need to show out hard on Harris, make him give up the ball and then go back to playing strong positional defense by recovering to their men from their help positions. LA’s lack of foot speed has made this difficult but the accuracy the Bulls and (especially) Kings showed in shooting the long ball only exacerbated the issue. It’s understandable that fatigue will be an issue, but the Lakers will need to rotate to Bell, Hayward, and Miles whenever they’re camped in the corner and make them put the ball on the floor to create their own shot. The latter two are capable playmakers off the bounce so closing out with discipline is needed but I’d rather run them off the three point line and/or contest hard than let them bomb away taking clean looks.
The Lakers will also need to continue their good job of protecting their defensive backboards. The Jazz offer four above average big men (Favors, Jefferson, Millsap, and Kanter) who all seek out contact on the glass and like to bang underneath. Gasol, Murphy, and McRoberts (who is questionable with a sprained toe) will all need to do work on the glass to combat the Jazz bigs. But the Laker wings and guards must also do their part by closing down the foul line and pinching the bigs from the backside in order to wall off the paint to aid on the glass. Ebanks, MWP, and Barnes are all capable rebounders and their efforts will be needed tonight. (On a sidenote, one player that really needs a body put on him is Jeremy Evans. He’s a leaper and loves to come in for tip dunks when no one boxes him out. Whenever he’s on the floor, he must be marked as he will put one down on your head if you’re not looking out for him.)
Where you can watch: 7:30 start time on TNT. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.