Tonight, the Lakers look for revenge as they play the Jazz for the second time in 3 days. After losing in the “championship” of the Lakers Shootout, the Lakers will try to play better (especially on defense) and get the win they sought on Sunday. And since we just did this on Sunday, I’m going to keep this preview short and sweet.
The one difference we’ll see is that tonight, it’s been confirmed (right from the horse’s mouth) that Deron Williams will suit up. After missing Sunday’s contest with a strained calf, Williams is anxious to get on the floor but it remains to be seen how much Jerry Sloan uses his all-star point man. However many minutes he plays though, Williams is a difference maker on the floor and the Lakers will be up for an even bigger challenge with him in the lineup. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Williams’ game so I won’t gush about him here. Just understand that there are few guards more complete than Williams (at least on offense) and with his ability to score inside and outside plus his size/speed/strength combination he’s a tough cover for any Laker.
But that doesn’t mean the Lakers won’t try to shut down Williams with a variety of looks. Fisher (who, historically, has done a decent job on Williams) will likely start out covering him but we’re also sure to see some of Artest and maybe even Barnes take a turn as well. Which ever Laker does defend him needs to know that his deadliest weapon is his ability to change directions quickly with a devastating cross over that sets up his forays into the lane or his step back jumper. So, even though Williams is a capable outside shooter, the best approach is to lay off him some and make him earn his buckets from 18 feet and out.
As for slowing the other Jazz, one key will be better containing penetration and having more awareness of all the off-ball screens and cuts that Utah employs. Kirilenko and Gordon Hayward consistently freed themselves effectively using screens and cutting off the back side so the Lakers will have to be more aware of these actions and defend them without fouling. And speaking of Hayward, I’m interested in seeing if he carries over his strong game into this one. He was beyond excellent on Sunday and I want to see if that’s something we can expect from the rookie. The other key will be marking Al Jefferson in the post and not falling for his myriad of feints and ball fakes. Several times over-anxious Laker big men left their feet when Big Al went into his move and several times he made them look silly by easily scoring on up and under moves or drawing fouls.
On offense, the Lakers need to continue to run their sets, make the extra pass, and be confident and decisive when the ball arrives. The Lakers are looking better on offense, but with several new players getting accustomed to the Triangle and their teammates, you can see the slight hesitation come over when deciding whether to let the ball fly or to move the ball along. Blake and Barnes were especially caught up in over-thinking and it showed in their results (0-7 and 1-4 from the field respectively). As I mentioned after the last game I cut these guys some slack because they’ve already proven to be better than what they showed in that one game (not to mention everyone has a bad game now and again), but I’ll be watching to see if their making quick decisions and/or if they’re hesitating at all.
I’d also like to see the Lakers take better care of the ball. For three straight games now the Lakers have had 18 or more turnovers and while those high totals can be explained away by a variety of reasons, it’s still too high a number. Opening night is exactly one week away and there’s no time better than the present to start playing a more focused and crisp brand of ball.
Where you can watch: 7pm start time at the Honda Center in Anaheim on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710am.