It’s going to be loud, the Jazz fans will be pumped, motorcycles will run across the hardwood ridden by bears like some sort of Russian circus via the Wachowski brothers. Reed, one of the most popular commenters/posters on this site is going to be in the arena tonight — we’ll see if he’s a lucky charm or more like the tiki that Bobby picked up in Hawaii and needs to be thrown back.
The Utah setting is going to have one likely impact — the Jazz are going to get a little more favorable treatment from the refs. I agree with what many have said in the comments: After multiple years leading the league in fouls, playing a physical style, it is an amazing feat of cognitive dissonance for some Jazz fans to be complaining about all the calls. The Lakers are getting the calls because they have been the aggressors — Kobe is not settling for jumpers, he is going to the rim, and the only way the Jazz can stop him is to foul. Same with Fisher. Gasol is getting the ball on great feeds and is getting fouled because the Jazz are coming at him at bad angles. Bottom line — the aggressive team gets the calls in the NBA, and in games one and two that has been the Lakers.
Tonight though, the Lakers need to be prepared for the refs to let a little more go, and they are going to have to play through it.
The fouls, however, is not what worries me. The Jazz started to be the aggressors at points last game, and that worries me. I think Darius explained best what happened near the end of game 2 (and how the Lakers should counter):
In the 4 quarter (especially the last 4-5 minutes), the Jazz did a great job of just kind of abandoning their sets and letting Williams attack. No screens, just get out the way and let him beat his guy. I think Sloan realized that by bringing over a screener it allowed the Lakers to dictate where the ball would go next by allowing the second defender to either force Deron to pass or by cutting off the driving lane until the primary defender could recover. If you just let Williams use his size, quickness, and handle, he has the skill to break us down and get to the rim. This fed his confidence that led to him burying those late jumpers too. If Sloan goes to more of these sets in game 3, the Lakers have to be ready to collapse the lane, rotate to any shooters on the perimeter, while still covering for a rotating big by boxing out Boozer, Milsap, Okur, and Harpring.
David Thorpe at ESPN.com called out another set that Utah had success with — Boozer and D-Will running the high screen-and-roll with the other three players spread along the baseline (making it a little harder to get to help in time). Something to look for.
I expect the best Jazz offensive game of the series, the question is will the Lakers still win a scoring contest. One that is well above the Vegas more than/less than number (that one’s for you, Henry!).
The Jazz still have “The Kobe Problem” — they have no answer to slow him. It appeared to me the best Jazz defender on Kobe was Harpring, and apparently Sloan agreed as he got some key fourth quarter time on our MVP. Harpring was up on him 30 feet from the basket. But as Kobe said in a radio interview yesterday, Harpring can’t stay with him out that far so he was trying to force him to help. That opened up things for other Lakers when Kobe made smart passes. I expect the Jazz to go back to the Harpring model for long stretches at home thinking that they will face fewer foul calls. The Lakers need to make them pay with good passing.
One final note. Before you make a comment about the crowd tonight, who I’m sure we will find annoying, read the first rule of commenting. As Reed and others who have lived in Salt Lake have said, it is a more diverse town than most think, something that is changing there over the past decade plus. We welcome everyone at this site, if they can have a rational discussion.