Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

Darius Soriano —  January 11, 2012

Records: Lakers 7-4 (3rd in West), Jazz 6-3 (5th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 104.1 (12th in NBA), Jazz 101.6 (18th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 98.6 (5th in NBA), Jazz 104.0 (20th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Jazz: Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson
Injuries: Lakers: Josh McRoberts (doubtful), Troy Murphy (questionable), Derrick Caracter (out); Jazz: none

The Lakers Coming in: The Lakers have won 3 in a row and while Kobe is (deservedly) getting much of the attention and credit we mustn’t ignore that the Lakers continue to make strides on the defensive side of the ball. Last night they struggled in the first half defending the P&R and allowed Frye to break open behind the arc too often, but they otherwise played a tight game most of the night and held the Suns to 83 points and an offensive rating of 95.4. And this has been the trend all year. The Lakers will give up some three pointers (especially on the weak side to big men shooters that can space the floor) but they’ve been controlling the paint, protecting the rim, and cleaning the glass better than any team in the league – sporting the best defensive rebound rate in the NBA. When you add in better habits in closing out and pressuring ball handlers on the wing, the Lakers are starting to clamp down on D in a way that we haven’t seen since 2010. So, while Kobe’s brilliance makes the highlights, we also need to understand that the offense remains a work in progress. And while the same can be said about the defense, it’s that end of the ball that is quietly carrying the team right now.

The Jazz Coming in: It’s hard to know what to make of this Jazz team. They’ve won 5 games in a row but when you zoom into their schedule those W’s come against a group of teams that are all below .500 on the year. They have also beaten the 76ers (one of surprising, strong teams of this young season) but that was a narrow victory and was played in Utah. Meanwhile, the 3 losses on their schedule are to the Lakers, Spurs, and Nuggets – all teams that look to be playoff squads come this spring. So, are the Jazz a team benefitting from a soft schedule or are they sneakily a good team that’s beaten the teams in front of them and had a few bad nights along the way?

In any event, this team is rolling and a lot of it has to do with the strong play of Al Jefferson and the move of Paul Millsap to the starting lineup. In yesterday’s win over the Cavs those two combined for 49 points on 22-27(!!!) shooting, punishing the Cavs interior all night. With Millsap showing a bit more range on offense and Jefferson going back to his roots as a low post beast, this team offers front court talent to spare and have been utilizing it to earn their wins. When you combine that with an all-hands-on-deck approach on the wing, the Jazz can be a difficult out as multiple contributors can get hot on any night.

Jazz Blogs: Salt City Hoops offers up great coverage of this team. As does SLC Dunk. Check out both sites.

Keys to game: From a strategy standpoint, not much has changed from the first time these two teams met a in LA’s third game of the season. The Lakers have a size and length advantage inside and should look to exploit it as much as possible. Millsap is a gritty, blue collar player but effort can only make up so much a difference when he’s giving up several inches in height and wingspan to Gasol. Jefferson, meanwhile, isn’t known as a strong defender and will have his issues defending Bynum without help from his mates. The back ups that the Jazz can bring in are talented (Favors and Kanter are both top 5 lottery picks) but they’re green and have their own flaws as well. So, while we hem and haw about Bynum’s ability to deal with doubles and wonder if Gasol will find his touch on his jump hook, they should still be able to do damage tonight simply by running hard and making quick decisions with the ball – two things both players are capable of (yes, even Bynum).

As for Kobe, he’s been hot and until he cools down he should see the ball often. The Jazz would be smart if they kept Raja Bell (even with his veteran savvy) glued to Matt Barnes rather than chasing an active and engaged Kobe, but if they don’t look for Kobe to try to stick it to his old friend the way that he did the Suns last night. As we know, Kobe has a memory like an elephant and while he appreciates the competitive nature of Bell, he still wants to bury him each time they face off. If Kobe sees Hayward, look for the same approach but with even more post ups and isolations from the elbow in order to see if the young SF can deal with the variety of moves Kobe’s been bringing to the table lately.

Defensively, the Lakers’ plan will sound just like their offensive plan – they need to play to their height advantage by standing tall when playing one on one post defense and making the Jazz bigs shoot over the top of them. Jefferson offers a crafty post game so Bynum (and Gasol) need to stay down on his variety of fakes and challenge aggressively when the shot is actually taken. The same goes for defending Millsap but with a bit more of a perimeter focus. Millsap likes to turn and face, feint his jumper, and then attack off the dribble. The Lakers’ bigs must stay down on his fakes and make him prove he can consistently knock down that 16-18 footer before challenging him too hard.

The same holds true for penetration – the Lakers must force Harris, Hayward, and Miles into the middle of the floor, towards their big men and make these guys finish over the top of outstretched arms. All are capable of both shooting and penetrating so playing them any one way isn’t advisable, but rather play them straight up and with discipline and force them where you want them to in order to limit their success. It worked in the first game, it can work again tonight.

Lastly, the Lakers have yet to win on the road and tonight is as good a time as any to change that trend. The Jazz crowd is always ready to give their best effort when the Lakers visit but lately the visiting team has been both more talented and been more successful. This has led to more and more Laker fans finding their way into the arena to cheer on the road team. If tonight follows that trend the Lakers could find some friendly cheers and maybe that (as well as having more horses) can get them off the snide.

Where you can watch: 6:00pm PST start on KCAL 9. Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710AM.

Darius Soriano

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89 responses to Preview & Chat: The Utah Jazz

  1. As always, excellent game preview Darius. Hopefully, we can get our 3-Point Shooting on track tonight because due to our size advantage, I expect to see both of our Bigs doubled early and often. Utah also played last night, albeit at home, so exhaustion shouldn’t be too much off an issue on our end. Bottom Line, lets go on ahead and get this 1st road victory of the season.

  2. #1 For Warren! :)

  3. I think the best part of last night’s game was that the Lakers were only up 1 with 6 mins to go. Clamped down on D and won the game by 16. Lakers play ugly basketball now, but its getting more effective daily.

  4. Jazz are going to be hungry for revenge after the embarassment at Staples, and Jefferson had his best game of the season last night. This one should go down to the wire. Hopefully the Lakers make a couple threes and Bynum plays strong D against Jefferson.

  5. Interesting, I thought the NBA doesn’t allow back-to-back home games. Must be one of those condensed season quirks.

    Speaking of rebounding stats, Lakers also have the best rebounding margin in the league (http://espn.go.com/nba/statistics/team/_/stat/rebounds-per-game/sort/avgReboundsDifference) This makes me very happy.

    Very unhappy with the 3-pt % so far though. With Drew commanding double teams in the post, the perimeter players have to be able to hit those 3s.

    Tonight we don’t have our backup bigs, travelling for the second night of a back-to-back to a place that hates us, and we embarrassed them recently, so.. not expecting first road win just yet. Just want to see improvement in chemistry and shooting, and I’ll be content.

  6. No Kobe hating comments today? Where are all you guys? I guess we will have to wait until his next bad game before declaring him a selfish, over the hill, ball hogging second option, who cares more about his shots than winning games/championships.

    I think the lesson here is – do not question the Black Mamba. He knows more about what it takes to win in this league than any of you nit picking haters. In fact, he knows more about winning than any active player in the league. The next time Kobe has a bad game, I think it would be wise to give him the benefit of the doubt. Kobe has been serving crow to his haters for years now, but there will always be haters every year just begging for another serving. Some people never learn. This year’s plate of crow might be the biggest serving yet.

  7. My fearless prediction! Tonight will be a close game within 3 points either way. Utah has been playing good ball and we have trouble in Utah. Can’t expect another 48 point game from the real King Kobe. Need to get a much better game from Andrew tonight. Also expect loud boo’s from crowd toward Fisher.

  8. 6)
    Great point on the Kobe hating. Like I said after his 6 for 28 performance… As long as he is athletic and skilled enough to get off good shots when facing one on one coverage I will not be worried about bad shooting nights from him.

  9. @6 – A lot of us here have problems with Kobe seemingly willing to lose a game by hoisting up bad shots in order to try and shoot himself out of a slump. I can’t remember any other time he’s done that. In the past, he used to take over when nobody else was contributing on offense.

    In that Denver game, Drew and Pau were dominant down low, and the team rallied every time Kobe went to the bench, while Denver rallied every time Kobe came back in. Since then, he’s been working off the ball more and posting up more, so his ratio of 3-pt FG attempts to 2-pt FG attempts has dropped significantly. This version of Kobe is still a top-five player.

  10. Dude,
    Yes… But the Denver game was one of the few times the defense was daring him to shoot. They sagged off him to take away the drive and to prevent entry passes to Bynum. He was taking wide open shots that he needs to take. He isn’t Magic. He is a shooter. I will stop being a Kobe fan the day he stops taking those shots. Remember he is our PG right now. He starts the offense. He needs to be a threat or the big men will never get the ball.

  11. Here is a great Sports Illustrated article on Bynum and dealing with double teams. Enjoy……

    http://nba-point-forward.si.com/2012/01/11/andrew-bynums-next-step-post-passes/?sct=nba_t12_a1

  12. @6, if you can’t see the difference between Kobe against Denver and the Kobe that has played every game since, then you aren’t very perceptive.

    The “haters” for the most part were people who were rightly bothered by Kobe’s disastrous decision making in that game, and his insistence on shooting his way out of a terrible offensive game at the expense of his team on a night when had not one but two post players who were scoring at will when given the chance.

    To NOT call him out after a performance like that is the height of homerism, and being critical of a terrible performance does not preclude one from heaping praise on him for an amazing performance like last night. It’s called being an objective fan.

  13. And Dude,
    I’m not saying you’re wrong in that Denver game. I just feel you get that W in Denver if Kobe stops shooting amd develops a concionce. But you will lose more than you win if Kobe stopped attacking every time he gets cold. That’s how I feel about that exact sittuation. Kobe needs to be a crazy stone cold gunner to be Kobe. I think it was Larry Bird who said 0 for 20 isn’t a bad game for a great player. A bad game is 0 for 5.

  14. Funky and Dude,

    There is a difference between critiquing a player and hating on a player.

    Pointing out that Kobe made bad decisions and shot poorly in the Denver game is a critique.

    On the other hand, when fans ignore Kobe’s accomplishments, and question his character and priorities when it comes to winning, based on a sample size of one game…that’s nothing but pure hatorade.
    He is arguably the greatest Laker of all time, and deserves better from Laker fans.

    There were quite a few people on this site who went beyond criticizing Kobe’s game against Denver… they wanted Kobe’s head on a platter, calling him a selfish player who was more concerned with his shots than winning (this has been the motto of the Kobe hater club for years), despite the fact that Kobe has 5 rings. They wanted Byum to be the focal point of the offense going forward, and claimed that the Lakers won rings despite Kobe’s “selfish” play. I can go on and on.

    I’ve been following this blog for 4 years, and I have never before seen this level of Kobe hate. In my book, if a Laker fan continually chooses to focus on Kobe’s negatives over his many positives, he is a Kobe hater.

  15. LT, I am pretty much with you on this, although I think the point where criticism ends and “hating” begins is ambiguous.

    I think Kobe has demonstrated a lot of selfish tendencies over the years. In many cases, I think that works to the detriment of the team. However, there is clearly an upside to this trait. His confidence in himself sometimes causes him to dominate the ball and put up contested shots–but this is also the trait that makes him the game’s best closer, and what totally separates him from Lebron James and most other great players.

    The Denver game was (and hopefully will remain) an anomaly. It was an example of Kobe putting his own interests ahead of the team’s in a very clear and obvious way. He dominated the ball and put up long jumpers instead of exploiting the mismatches inside that were working. It was such an egregious example (and, again, anomaly) that it brought out a lot of criticism/hating. I don’t condone the hating, but very much support the criticism in that case.

    I would also hesitate to label as a “hater” those who want Bynum (and Gasol) to be the focal point of the offense. I think that is a wise strategy, and one most likely to allow this team to reach its potential. Starting inside out not only gets easier and higher percentage shots, but softens the defense. Kobe will always be able to get his own shots when necessary, but an offensive system is something that helps other players get involved and maximize the advantages they have. Whatever else this team lacks, what separates the Lakers from everyone else is the presence of two all-star 7 footers in the low post….

    Overall, it’s hard (ridiculous, in fact) to argue that Kobe isn’t the team’s best player, and you should expect and want your best player to take the most shots. What’s different about Kobe is that he has the ability to do what no other player in the league can do consistently, which is take a terrible 3 quarters of shooting and turn it into a 4th quarter masterpiece. That’s the rub.

  16. I agree with LT, the level of criticism on this blog after the Denver game went way beyond comments of objective fans. Questioning of integrity, motive, suggestion of trades (laughable), and demands for shot quotas and such (also laughable). The man is still a legitimate 1st Team All NBA, he is playing hurt, and he is the core of our team from both a talent and leadership perspective. Last night’s game was just another testament to the man’s greatness.

  17. Hi, guys. Big laker fan overseas. Any links where I can view the game live?

  18. this seems like an appropriate time to remind people that Bynum only has 4 assists ALL YEAR

  19. Darius Miles with some court time. Might only be for a minute, but nonetheless.

  20. Darius Morris with his first assist to MWP for a slam dunk on the fast break.

  21. Kobe is not playing fair right now.

    17

    Jim, check firstrowsports. tv for a stream. I would post the link but for some reason I’ve never been able to do so on this site.

  22. Well, that was a dreadful 3 minutes to start the quarter! Not sure that this lineup is going to be able to get things done offensively.

  23. Bynum picks up his dribble too quickly when he gets doubled.

  24. Hope Steve Blake is okay. Looks as if he injured a finger.

  25. it looks like its gonna be a live/die by kobe night

  26. If your forwards are Metta andvWalton you must be a circus team.

  27. Depth, we have none. Walton should never play. Period. Last night was an aboration. Tonight is the real, overmatched Luke. I know three people are hurt but isn’t that why you should have a deeper team? Mbenga anyone? MWP has turned Ron Ron into garbage.

  28. Please get World out of the game and off this team.

  29. Kobe should just stop shooting 3s this season.

  30. “Mbenga anyone?”

    Absolutely not.

  31. im starting to think we need a wing of the bench than a point guard!

  32. Question?

    Who is currently the worst player on this team?

    Metta
    Walton
    Fisher

    The polls are now open!

  33. Busboys – to be fair, the Lakers are missing, Caracter, McRoberts, Murphy and Kapono. That is four potential rotation players.

  34. “Live/die by Kobe” tends to happen on nights when Drew & Pau are 5-16 combined for the 1st half. We just need a little more execution in the half court.

  35. 6) LT Mitchell,
    No, the lesson is that Kobe getting a lot of shots within the flow of the offense is not bad. Kobe taking a lot of shots outside the flow of the offense is bad.

  36. @ Joel

    If not Mbenga, who then? He’s active, has a big body, and knows most of the team.

  37. Bynum is really struggling right now. He’s spinning baseline off the double team for a shot, and missing consistently from 6-8 feet out. Pau’s putting together a nicer game, his touch from anywhere within 10 feet is soft and smooth.

  38. The way Kobe is executing the offense is freaking mind boggling. He is getting SURGICAL in this B****.

    He has Utah’s defense absolutely off balance when coming off curls.

    Is he going to pull up? Drive? Fade?

    He is giving the slight hesitation dribble see what the D is doing and countering. Playing me tight? Ok 1 dribble/2 dribble pull up. Laying off? ok pull up. Single coverage in post? mid range fade.

    This is freaking poetry in motion.

  39. 37

    I haven’t really thought about it, but my reflex answer to any question involving Mbenga is “NO”.

  40. It sure would be nice to see Drew use the glass on his jump hooks when he as the correct angle.

  41. OK, it’s pretty obvious that Drew is gassed. That last flat lefty hook and not even going to the rack on Pau’s missed shot says it all.

  42. Drew has to get his head in the game. Fisher set him up for an alley-oop & he didn’t even recognize it. He’s struggling out there offensively

  43. So with Kapono out, does it look like Morris has been given the minutes that were going to Glock in previous games?

  44. these are two tired teams

  45. At this point I don’t expect Kobe to ever miss a midrange jumper.

  46. Exhelodrvr,

    Many on this blog and others were ready to cast off Bryant for their newly crowned king Bynum. It was almost like the blogosphere was collectively wretching on Kobe. Perhaps Lakers fans were uneasy about 24′s declining athleticism, and wanted signs that he should start featuring less in our offense. It was a ridiculous overreaction, and a lot of it was Kobe hate. Well, he’s shown everyone.

  47. Someone is going to have to eventually step up and give Kobe some help out there. I don’t believe Ty Corbin will continue to cover him with a single individual. Who will it be?

  48. Not sure if the numbers back this, but it feels like a LOT of offensive fouls tonight.

  49. I really really really like Darius Morris’ confidence. Playing solidly, within himself, and making good decisions. That and he plays SUPER hard on defense.

  50. Like the look of Morris so far.

  51. Blakes out… TPE anyone?

    Adding onto praise for morris’s play, he’s handled the ball well, not caughed it up in traffic, and made good decisions on offense. He hasn’t been tested to execute any sets yet, but good first signs.

  52. And the turnover… Thanks Morris.

  53. Let’s hope that Blake’s injury is not serious. Considering that may mean more playing time for Fish, that would end up being a more costly injury than Kobe going down. Kidding of course, but I think everyone knows what I’m getting at…

  54. Hopefully Morris has earned some playing time in the next few games after tonight

  55. Spoke too soon. Morris dribbling the air out of the ball.

  56. seriously Metta…

  57. This may sound sacrilegious, but I actually don’t mind Matt Harpring’s commentating. Knowledgeable, fair, and doesn’t have a stupid voice.

  58. Bynum is playing really tired.

    Agreed Zephid. Utah’s team is pretty balanced. Breath of fresh air after watching the Suns announcers last night. Which was terrible.

  59. can just someone, just one person help kobe

  60. Help! Blake out and we are left with the worst PG in the world shooting7% on 3′s

  61. These are the kind of close games against good teams the Lakers could never win last last year, especially on the road. Lets see if that can change tonight.

  62. Joe – That’s exactly what I’m interested to see. Execution and desire down the stretch on both ends.

  63. Bynum made a great decision to stop and pass to Barnes for the layup and avoid the charge on the fast break.

  64. The world knows Zkobe is taken the last shot. Is there any other option if he us thriple teamed.

  65. not sure, but was it kobe’s responsibility to box out Milsap? Couldn’t see it clearly on replay.

  66. did they review that 3

  67. Pau is getting killed by Millsap at both ends.

  68. Pau Gasol corner three gives Lakers the lead

  69. Big shot… er, Pau?

  70. It’s amazing how even non-homer announcers can pivot from “you can’t touch stars like Kobe, that’s just the way it’s officiated” to “you’ve got to let that kind of play go in the heat of battle” in, what, 20 minutes’ time?

  71. Bynum with 2 HUGE plays at both ends.

  72. @76: Yeah, but he was sitting on 39 points. Come on.

  73. 76. agreed

  74. Bynum with the block and Kobe makes 2 FTs and the Lakers win their first road game of the season.

  75. Incredible. I hope everyone truly appreciates the absolute legend that we are watching. Tonight’s game was yet another where Kobe immediately established himself as the best player on the court and then proceeds to remind everyone in the arena of that fact, for the rest of the game. Wow

  76. Yes Kobe is the best, no argument there, just wish he wouldn’t go one against four. Bad karma, bad basketball….

  77. Couple of concerns:

    First: Gasol and Kobe are playing too many minutes. They were both over 40 tonight. I know it went overtime, but still, thats a little much.

    Second: While Kobe was good tonight, the Lakers ran absolutely no offense from the 5 minute mark on in the 4th. Would’ve been nice too see one of the bigs create something, with Kobe acting as a decoy.

    That looked like the Lebronese Cleveland offense – yuck.

    Otherwise, a wins a win.

  78. Man, I hate the clogged toilet offense late in games, but I’ll take the win. Some really rugged defense from our guys, especially our last line of defense.

  79. dx @81: Actually – there were stretches during this game when it was 1 on 5. And fortunately Kobe’s karma was just fine. As for the other 4 – commentary will be held for another time. Just like after the last game, this is no time for criticism, it is time to sit back and cheer #24.

  80. The team gutted out a tough road win on a back to back. Kobe carried them for stretches and yes, he appears to be superhuman. Several players came up big in over time. That was great to see.

    As I have said before, it would be nice if they came up with something a little more creative for the end game.

    Also, at his salary, Barnes is an absolute steal right now. Love how he is playing.

  81. Agree about the minutes. Part of that is the missing bench guys, but basically all the various concerns lead back to the same place: they need to add a guard.

    ____

    >I have read a few times that Pau has actually been working on 3s a lot in practice.
    >Morris had bad +/- but he looks like he will be an NBA player and I like him. But I am getting the feeling that Kobe has told Brown he wants Fisher out there in crunch time.

    As to Kobe, the criticism after Denver was warranted. The praise now is equally so. Robert is right; this may not be a great team, etc, but we should appreciate what Kobe is doing right now. It is remarkable.

  82. Glad to see the Lakers get their first road win. Personally, I am in awe of number 24. There is no way he should be doing what he is considering the circumstances. Still it doesn’t shake the uneasiness I feel from watching the team rely on him so much. It’s great for the here and now. But long term it is no way sustainable. I guess I will channel the legendary Phil Jackson and just focus on the moment. Our boys gutted out a quality road win tonight. Good stuff.

  83. Not to dredge up the old “Best Laker Ever” debate, but Kobe’s backers have more evidence to support their side of late.

    What he’s done since the game in Denver is just absurd, especially with the wrist injury. Guy’s just amazing…

  84. @4, good call sir

  85. @ Chris J

    And he’s the only Laker starter besides Barnes who doesn’t look totally gassed every night.

    Great win, but it evidences the need for another player who can create his own shot besides Kobe. Sixty-six games in 123 days is going to kill Kobe by the end of the season if he doesn’t get help. Brown’s strategy is to ride him like he rode LeBrawn. Kobe is 33, he will need a break or two. We need to get a player before March when JR Smith and those guys come back.

    We also need a back-up big (who is a center). Utah is the biggest team in the League. They just kept running guys out there. LO, again, would have been excellent in stopping Millsap tonight.

  86. anti Dwyer Abbott January 12, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Bashers gonna bash only to fuel the fire..