The Lakers are heading into Salt Lake City without four guys who were expected to be in the top of the Lakers rotation this season with Pau Gasol out with upper respiratory inflammation. After three tough losses, the Lakers will see a Utah team that has struggled all season. Here we go 3-on-3 to preview tonight’s game.
1. The front court rotation has been in flux all season. With Pau out tonight, what guys should get minutes against this Jazz team?
Ryan Cole: I think that Robert Sacre should get the bulk of minutes in Pau’s place tonight. He’s played very well on defense this season, and has been a solid presence on the offensive end. He’s not going to go out there and score 20 points, but he’ll help in the other areas: rebounding, effort, intensity, and defense.
Andre Khatchaturian: After a 17-rebound performance at Golden State, Chris Kaman earned some playing time at Phoenix earlier this week. He went 0-for-2 from the field in 13 minutes, but did grab five rebounds and was a +1. Not making a bucket, though, was enough for Mike D’Antoni to fall into recency bias and not play him on Christmas. Instead, we saw Ryan Kelly who didn’t particularly play bad but Kaman could have been more effective against Miami’s biggest weakness – their front court. It would be nice to see Kaman get big boy playing time tonight against an awful Jazz team and show the staff what he can do.
Phillip Barnett: The starting lineup has Shawne Williams and Chris Kaman starting at the four and five, respectively. Even though he’s not back on the floor with the starting unit, I’d like to see Jordan Hill get somewhere between the 25-30 minutes if he can stay out of foul trouble. The Jazz are one of the few teams with a defensive rebounding rate as bad as the Lakers (Jazz ranked 28th, Lakers ranked 29th). This could be a night where we see Hill dominate on the boards and create some second chance opportunities for a team that will surely need it on the road and shorthanded.
2. Trey Burke has had games of 30, 20, and 18 points in his last five. He’s also had games of two and three during that same stretch. How do the Lakers ensure that Burke is closer to the latter?
Ryan Cole: They have to make a consistent effort to trap him in pick-and-roll situations. He’s yet to prove that he’s an amazing playmaker, so force him to make decisions rather than score. Scoring is easily his best asset as a player. Burke has the quickness and speed to penetrate effectively, and can stretch the floor from behind the arc with his shot. If the Lakers have any chance at winning, they must contain him in the pick-and-roll.
Andre Khatchaturian: The Lakers have been better at defending point guards this season than last year. Opposing PGs have a PER of 15.9 this year compared to 18.0 last season. Thank Jordan Farmar for that. Opposing PGs have a PER of just 6.5 with 4.1 turnovers per 48 minutes when Farmar is the counterpart PG. Farmar was rusty in his first game back from injury on Christmas, but the Lakers should still put him on Trey Burke and hope he shuts him down.
Phillip Barnett: Burke doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, but he’s been a decent shooter from deep (37.5 percent from three for a rookie is very promising) and has shown an ability to do some dangerous things in P&R sets. Rotations are going to have to be crisp to not allow him easy looks at the rim and Farmar is going to have to run him off the three point line in catch and shoot situations. Best case scenario is to have Burke shooting off the dribble out of the pick and roll.
3. Who gets the win tonight and why?
Ryan Cole: The Jazz. The Lakers simply don’t have enough offensive firepower sans Kobe and Pau. Maybe they can compete with Utah for a half, but eventually the size and athleticism of the Jazz is going to be too much for this team to handle.
Andre Khatchaturian:The Lakers have struggled at Salt Lake historically. They’re just 19-34 on the road against Utah since 1986-87. It’s a house of horrors. That being said, the Lakers need this one in order to stay in the playoff race. They played hard against the defending champions on Christmas and a similar effort will translate to a win against a terrible shooting team like Utah. Gasol will be out so it will be difficult, but expect Farmar to get his groove back and Jordan Hill to get big boy minutes with Pau out of the lineup. Prediction: Lakers win a close one. It also seems like Vegas may be overreacting a bit on the Gasol injury. The Lakers are 3.5 point underdogs. Take the bet.
Phillip Barnett: I think the Lakers win tonight. This is a team that seems like it’s frustrated with the recent losses and the Jazz could be the team they take their frustrations out on. Utah hasn’t been very good this season. They’re in the bottom five in offensive and defensive rating (dead last in defensive rating), and the Lakers have the youth, speed, and shooting to leave Energy Solutions Arena with another tally mark in the win column.