Even though the Lakers are 1-3 to start the season, tonight’s game against the Jazz gives them a chance to build on the foothold they established in their last contest. That game against the Pistons showed a Lakers team that executed on both sides of the ball; a team that could play up to (or at least approach) the high standard many have for them season.
The Jazz, however, offer a different quality opponent than the Pistons (who remain winless after a loss to the Nuggets last night). This Utah team is deep, has quality size, and is coming of a nice playoff run last season. They are, like the Clippers team the Lakers played last week, a team that is more than capable of beating the Lakers even if not at their best. In other words, tonight a is a challenge.
For the Lakers to be up to the task of winning this game, and on the road no less, there is a formula they’ll need to abide by. And while these tasks don’t just apply to beating the Jazz, tonight is another chance to refine this plan to get another much needed win. Some things to look for:
- Cutting out the sloppy play. Turnovers are a death knell for this Lakers team and will continue to be as long as their wings aren’t the fastest in the world and their big men love to hang around the paint for post touches and offensive rebounding chances. Since none of those things are changing, the Lakers need to take care of the ball to avoid the opposition racing back at them after a miscue.
- Transition defense doesn’t just apply to turnovers, but also to misses and, in certain situations, even after made baskets. Teams want to run on the Lakers rather than go up against their half court defense where shot blockers protect the paint and gambling wings can disrupt perimeter actions. The Lakers must race back of missed shots and must have good floor balance even on makes to ensure teams don’t leak out.
- Offensive spacing is key to success. The Lakers can’t get caught up going one on one too often or stick to one side of the floor on any given possession. The ball must move, players must move, and the appropriate amount of room must be given to Kobe, Pau, and Howard when they have the ball in scoring positions. So much of the Lakers offensive success has been based off the defense not being in position to provide appropriate help on their star players. Maintain the spacing and that trend continues.
- Help the helper on defense and rotate to shooters on defense. The Lakers bigs are going to protect the rim. Howard is already showing the difference he can make in around the rim as deterrent. Gasol and Hill have also shown that they’re up to the task of challenging and altering shots. However, in order to maximize their success, they must help each other and receive help from their perimeter teammates. Hard close outs force players to put the ball on the floor. When big men hedge, the other big must clog the paint while weak side wings dig down to help against paint crashes. Everyone must move on a string and have confidence that the man behind them will be there.
In terms of the Jazz specifically, there are a few points that we do need to touch on.
Devin Harris has been replaced by Mo Williams in the three team trade that sent Devin Harris to the Hawks, Mo (and Marvin) Williams to the Jazz, and Lamar Odom to the Clippers. Mo is a different type of guard than Harris and must be respected as a shooter. When the Jazz run P&R, the Lakers must fight over the top of screens and not let Williams find his rhythm. Make him drive into the teeth of the defense and hit floaters over Howard, Gasol, and Hill.
The Jazz employ big men that love to live in the paint. Al Jefferson is one of the more gifted offensive post players in the league. Millsap has shown to be a good mid-range shooter but wants to use the strength of that shot to attack the paint using his good first step. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors want to punish teams with power moves in the paint and will feast on the offensive glass if given the opportunity. All of these players must be respected and the Lakers’ bigs must be up to the dual challenge of helping on any wing penetration while still monitoring this stable of more than capable big men.
Lastly, the news of the day is that Mike Brown has settled on a rotation and it involves Ron getting more run with the second unit and Jodie Meeks finding himself out of the mix for the time being. I have some longer thoughts on this, but the cliff notes version is that I’m not a fan of this move. Meeks can provide the spacing I discussed above, not to mention how issues of high minute counts and the use of the bench can combine to potentially damage long term goals.
We’ll have to see how this shift in the rotations goes but I envision as many, if not more, pitfalls than the benefits gained. Only time will tell, however.