On one side, it seems like all is right with the NBA world â€” Kobe got his MVP, the Sonics are staying in Seattle for another year, and we get a Laker playoff game at home tonight.
But know this â€” the last time Utah lost back-to-back games it was December. Tonight is going to be a real dogfight.
Itâ€™s going to be an interesting game of adjustments tonight â€” after practice the other day the Lakers sounded like guys ready to put on the foil and play some old-time hockey, while Utah players talked about not sending Kobe to the line as much tonight.
I expect Utah is going to change strategies on Kobe some, the â€œbeat him down physicallyâ€ strategy from game one failed (Kobe is not McGrady, he is stronger, gets rest and has better teammates to pass to on offense). Jazz players hinted they will go with more quick double teams and other moves (Carlos Boozer even talked about a zone) to try to get the ball out of Kobeâ€™s hands. If the Lakers continue move the ball like we saw against Denver that is fine â€” the other Lakers should get good looks and thrive (although Utah is certainly better defensively than Denver, by a mile).
On offense I expect Utah again to try to get early foul trouble on Gasol by posting up Okur/Boozer (the Lakers switched a little on that), or get Okur/Boozer the ball on the wing and let them drive at Gasol. Pau needs to be physical without fouling and crash the boards hard. A lot of those same things apply to Odom, who will be key for the Lakers on the boards.
Utah is going to shoot better tonight, the key is to take away the easy baskets on back-cuts and the like. LA got lost on some of that last game. The Lakers aggressive defense in the second quarter pushed Utah out of their comfort zone, forced them to take longer jump shots, and LA needs more of that effort â€” and not to let up on it. Utah will not fold like a house of cards.
As has been said before, how the refs call the game will have an impact on the outcome, although even the very smart Ross Siler of the Salt Lake Tribune is suggesting that the tape the Rockets sent to the league about how Utah defended McGrady in the last round may be impacting the calls on Kobe now.
There is a great preview from David Thorpe up at ESPN.com, a must read. He’s the best for a reason.
Enjoy the game, this is going to be a fun one. And hopefully at the end all will still seem right with the world.