If nothing else, the Lakers loss to the Cavs on Thursday night provided what too few games this year have: fun. Kobe’s wonderful stat-line of 19 points and (career high!) 17 assists wasn’t just a joy to watch, he was a full of joy while displaying the skill and basketball acumen needed to compile such numbers. The entire night he mostly smiled and had playful interactions with teammates and LeBron James, with the two once in a generation players sharing an embrace and some quick conversation when the final horn blew. After the game Kobe commented that part of his demeanor was due to the stage of his career and the state of his team, noting that if they were competing fro a championship, his mood likely would have been different. But, of course, that isn’t the case.
The game also served as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. After leading his team to a win down the stretch, LeBron spoke of Kobe joking that like himself, the King was now “old”. LeBron would add that a player like Kobe who has smarts and skill can remain effective for a long time, foreshadowing his own career in some respects. Everything must end and we’re reminded of that even more today as Kobe rests in Los Angeles as his team is in Utah to play the second half of a back to back.
This Jazz game is probably most important to fans of Lakers’ losses. The team currently has the fourth worst record in the league, a game “up” in the loss column over, you guessed it, the Jazz. If the Lakers find a way to leave Salt Lake with an “L” they’ll tighten their grasp on that 4th worst record and, with that, further aid in keeping their pick at the end of the year. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but much like jostling for a playoff seed the same will be done for draft positioning. At least that’s one way to look at it.
The game itself will hinge on which team’s big men have the better night and whether the Lakers, with Kobe out, have anyone on the perimeter who can match what Gordan Hayward will likely provide. Starting with the former, the Jazz offer a trio of nice young bigs, with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Rudy Gobert providing solid two way play and some rim protection (at least Favors and Gobert) too. They will make life hard on Ed Davis, Jordan Hill, Carlos Boozer, and Tarik Black all night, especially when it comes to battling on the glass and scoring in the paint. If the Lakers’ bigs can’t hang with their counterparts, this game likely won’t even be close. And that’s before we get to Hayward.
The Jazz SF has really come into his own this year, making good on his big contract and his summer of training with Team USA. The Butler product always had the all-court game, but his production would rise and fall and it was a real question on if there was another big step forward in his game. This year has answered, at least partially, that question as he boasts averages of 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists with his typical heady play on both sides of the ball. He takes on the opponent’s best perimeter player and hands out his share of punishment, too.
This is what the Lakers are up against. The Jazz aren’t a particularly good team record wise, but their trajectory is pointing upwards. This is more than can be said of the Lakers currently. On the 2nd night of a back to back and on the road, we’ll see how much the Lakers can conjure in the form of competitiveness. It’d be nice, though, if they brought of some of last night’s fun too. Even without Kobe.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM Los Angeles.