The Lakers are back at it Friday night, taking on the Jazz in Utah. This is the first of a 4 game road trip, all of which are against playoff quality teams. So even though the Lakers are coming off a good win over a quality Rockets’ team which inspired quite a few positive observations, these upcoming games offer quite a different challenge.
Regarding tonight, Utah is a game opponent who is well coached on both ends of the floor. To show you a bit of what they like to do schematically, I turn you over the very informative video below from friend of the site @LakerFilmRoom:
It should be noted the Jazz are banged up. Gordon Hayward is out with a broken finger. Alec Burks is also out due to ankle and knee surgery. Derrick Favors may play, but he sat out the Jazz’s opening night loss due to some knee issues. (UPDATE: Favors will play, but is on a minutes restriction and will come off the bench.) Rodney Hood also rolled his ankle in that opener and it is unknown if he will play. These are four key rotation players. If you’re the Jazz, the hope is that both Favors and Hood are good to go. Without them, this team will have to lean heavily on their depth.
The good news is that the Jazz did improve that depth over the off-season. Dante Exum returns from a torn ACL which cost him all last season. Meanwhile, Boris Diaw was acquired via a trade with the Spurs, George Hill was picked up in a deal with the Pacers and Hawks, and Joe Johnson was signed in free agency. Adding these four guys to an already strong core is one of the reasons so many smart basketball people are very high on the Jazz.
Of course, the Lakers have some depth of their own and much of how this game goes will depend on whether LA’s second unit can make the sort of impact it has shown it can through the preseason (and vs. Houston). A key player for those reserves is Jordan Clarkson. He will again come off the bench in Utah and, again, it will be in favor of Nick Young. For the Lakers to succeed tonight, Clarkson’s ability to conjure up a similar spark (if not numbers) to what he provided on Wednesday.
Beyond Clarkson, the rest of the bench unit of Ingram, Nance, Lou, and Black have the potential to give the Jazz some problems — especially on the wing. The Jazz have a lot of good depth in the front-court, but with Burks and Hayward out, the Ingram/Lou/Clarkson trio are likely to face off against Exum/Neto/Ingles. While Exum and Neto have some defensive chops, Ingles can be a liability, so I am interested in seeing if Ingram can take advantage of him as an offensive initiator and/or when working off the ball coming off picks or when attacking closeouts as a spot up shooter.
As for the starting group, the Lakers are going to have their hands full even if the Jazz are missing guys. Rudy Gobert is a menace in the paint on both ends and even if he plays a drop/sag technique in the P&R defensively, he has enough length and athleticism to contest shots if the ball handler telegraphs the mid-range jumper. This means D’Angelo Russell and, to a lesser extent, Deng and Young will need to look to drive him off spots with hard dribbles even if their intent is to step back and shoot jumpers.
Russell will also have to deal with George Hill’s on ball defense, which may present challenges. Hill has good size and length and has long been a plus defensive player. This is a game where if Russell is still able to generate good scoring, he’ll have earned it.
One other match up I am interested with the starters is Julius Randle vs. Boris Diaw. Boris is a smart defender and can be surprisingly nimble, but Julius has the strength and quickness to get into the lane. What will be interesting to see is how, once there, Randle deals with the looming help of Gobert and whether that opens up chances for shooters or for Mozgov on the offensive glass. Against Houston, Randle showed great patience and took advantage of single coverage while beating help with smart passing. He’ll need to do the same against the Jazz.
Make no mistake, this game will be a real challenge and it would be silly to expect the Lakers to pull out a win. Utah has a notoriously rough crowd and this being the Lakers’ 1st road game of the year, there may be some butterflies to work out. Still, though, I am hopeful for a competitive game where the Lakers continue to try and build on their principles on both ends.
Where you can watch: 6pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet.