The Lakers were able to finally pick up a win in their last game, providing a nice Christmas gift to their fans by beating their Staples Center co-tenants. After the game Luke Walton expressed happiness at the win, but also warned his players against feeling too good about a game which saw them nearly surrender another lead while going through another stretch of uninspiring play in the 3rd quarter. Walton’s message was one of support and of teaching, a message that might have gotten lost on his guys if he hadn’t built up the positive capital earlier during the year.
After doling out those sobering messages, though, Walton also reminded the press corps that his team does have what it takes — when they’re dialed in and focused. He cited the big leads against good teams and how accomplishing those things are not easy. He used this message as a reminder and to attempt to coax his players into doing the right thing more often, to bring the correct level of focus for more minutes. This is teaching. This is coaching. Walton too has a learning curve, but I’m happy to see him trying to hit the right notes with a team he’s trying to sculpt into a winner over the long haul even though they are not yet there right now.
Tonight his team is back on the floor against a Jazz team which has given the Lakers fits lately. This Utah team has a top flight wing in Gordon Hayward, two impact big men in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, and a solid (and sometimes dynamic) backcourt in George Hill and Rodney Hood. And though Hill will not play tonight, the rest of the aforementioned players should be available and that spells trouble for this Lakers’ team.
Favors gives Randle problems, Hood and Hayward always seem to raise their respective games against the Lakers, and Gobert is the type of disruptive defensive force which throws off the Lakers’ entire offensive attack. This means a lot of things will need to go the Lakers’ way for them to get a win against this specific team. There is a formula, though:
1. Slow down Hayward. Deng isn’t the defensive ace he once was and Hayward’s youth, athleticism, and complete floor game causes all sorts of problems. Still, though, if Deng can contest Hayward’s shot well, limit his penetration, and turn him into a passer to the perimeter rather than an interior passer to Gobert and Favors for easy finishes, he will be on the right track. Hayward may still win the matchup, but the goal is to make his life harder.
2. Get to Hood early to avoid a hot start. Hood has a knack of getting his shot going early and then riding that momentum the rest of the game anytime these teams play. Getting him off track early in the game will, hopefully, never let that rhythm establish and keep him from doing too much damage.
3. Get through picks better so Mozgov can keep a body on Gobert easier. Gobert has developed other parts of his game nicely, but he still does a lot of his damage in the P&R as a dive man and/or when hitting the offensive glass. If the Lakers’ guards and wings can get through screens better than they typically do, Mozgov’s hedges can be less pronounced and he can then body Gobert earlier to (hopefully) avoid the types of lobs and free lanes to the rim which allow Gobert to use his length and athleticism to get easy baskets.
The Jazz have other weapons — including the aforementioned Favors plus a nice bench of established and emerging role players — but slowing the above three players is the Lakers’ best chance of winning this game. If that comes along with good performances from Russell, Young, and any two of Randle, Lou, and Clarkson the Lakers will be right there in the game with a chance to win.
Like I said earlier, that’s a lot that has to go right. If the Lakers have the appropriate focus and effort level, though, they can do it.
Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.