At this point, there really isn’t anything new to say about the Lakers. They are incredibly banged up and won’t improve in that area until at least after the all-star break. They are low on talent and feature an unbalanced roster with a glut of point guards and big men, but low on wings. They have the potential to improve as they get healthier, but most observers long ago abandoned hope of making any sort of miracle run this year and instead are looking how to maximize their assets heading into the trade deadline and then, again when heading into the draft.
So, while there have been (and will be more) moments that inspire celebration this year (the random Nick Young explosion, a pretty play by one of the point guards, Pau Gasol having a throwback game, a particularly fun win, etc.), I equate them to a ray of sunshine that peaks out momentarily before the skies again turn gray and another downpour begins. They are fleeting moments of joy in our otherwise sad state of fandom. Such is the case when you root for a bad team.
Speaking of bad teams, hello Utah Jazz.
Well, actually, maybe that’s not fair. The Jazz are a half a game worse than the Lakers, sitting at 17-33. However, after starting the season by winning only one of their first 15 games, they have played almost .500 ball going a decent 16-18. That said, they have lost four of their last five. That said again, they just beat the Heat! Confused yet? Yeah, me too.
In any event, we are all pretty familiar with the Jazz by now. They have a dynamic young point guard in Trey Burke who, when he’s been available to play, has shown why he was one of the top prospects in last June’s draft. However, he is questionable tonight with a sore lower back. The Jazz also have some nice young big men, including Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Favors is a very good defensive player with a burgeoning offensive attack. Kanter can run hot and cold offensively and isn’t quite the defender he needs to be, but he’s a bull under the basket and can outmuscle most like-sized players to get baskets in the paint.
And, of course, they have Gordon Hayward. Hayward is a guy who almost everyone loves as a player. He has all the skills you’d want offensively, is a good athlete, and plays hard on D. He is smart, is a team player, and by all accounts works hard. The fact that he’ll be a restricted free agent soon has some questioning his value and whether he’ll get a max offer from anyone, but any team would be lucky to have him. The price is the only question.
When looking at this game, then, in order of importance of slowing down I would say it is Hayward, Burke (if he plays), Favors, and then Kanter. If the Lakers can keep the perimeter players somewhat in check, collapsing on the big men to make their lives harder should be easier. If the wings run wild, expect the Jazz big men to be able to do relatively well against single coverage.
From the Lakers’ side, Chris Kaman will start in Robert Sacre’s place and that should mean a bit more offensive flexibility to start this game. I appreciate Sacre’s efforts and love how he attacks the paint as a dive man in the P&R, but defenses simply don’t respect him the way that Kaman does and he’s not nearly as skilled. Having Kaman to occupy Favors defensively should open up more chances for Nash, Blake, and Wes Johnson on the perimeter. If Kaman can also spot Kelly for a few open jumpers, it should also open up his post chances a bit more by negating any big on big help that the Jazz might employ.
Another key tonight will be how well the Lakers “reserves” play. (Note, I say “reserves” because guys starting are really “reserves”, but I digress.) Kendall Marshall will need to hit some shots. Jordan Hill will need to do his typical dirty work, but will also need to get some baskets in and around the paint. Shawne Williams will need to do more than just act as a decoy around the three point line. These guys will need to be near their best and make a Jazz team without a lot of reliable depth themselves pay when the second units face off.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.