While I’m not entirely sure that a bad team is capable of having a schedule loss, tonight’s contest against the Utah Jazz certainly felt like one. After falling to the Toronto Raptors in Los Angeles the night before, the Lakers flew to Salt Lake City to take on one of the more disciplined teams in the league. Their inability to shoot from 3-point range and Rudy Gobert is a bad combination, and the Lakers struggled to find an area on the court where they could score, losing 96-81.
The starting lineup struggled once again, scoring just 7 points before Julius Randle replaced Brook Lopez with 4:03 remaining in the first quarter and the Lakers already down by 11. Unlike the previous two games, the Lakers’ inefficacy on the offensive end was matched by their defensive performance, as crushing down screens and listless closeouts led to a number of clean perimeter looks for Utah, who closed the first quarter with a commanding 31-16 lead.
Jordan Clarkson abandoned the Benny Hill routine to provide some much needed scoring punch in the second quarter and the bench converted several defensive stops into early offense opportunities. Julius Randle catalyzed the running game with another strong defensive performance, but 3 quick fouls sent him to the bench in favor of Larry Nance, Jr. with 6:52 left. Laker-killer Ricky Rubio got the Jazz back on track, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the first half en route to a 56-45 lead at the break.
Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance, Jr. came out strong in the 3rd quarter, but the second half belonged to Donovan Mitchell, who had a game-high 22 points and was the best rookie on the floor. In one momentum-busting sequence, Mitchell tomahawked a putback dunk as Lonzo Ball stood by and watched – the third such offensive rebound of the night that Ball surrendered to a Jazz guard – drilled a 3-pointer after Ball threw away the inbounds pass, and then drew an offensive foul on Nance as he fought over the screen.
The Lakers got as close as 77-72 in the final stanza, but they never threatened Utah in earnest, as they scored just 9 points in the final 8:31 of the game. Their 81 points was the fewest they’ve scored on the season, dropping their Offensive Rating to 94.5 on the year, ranking them 29th in the league ahead of only the hapless Chicago Bulls. The personnel is overmatched, and the system isn’t doing them any favors. Luke Walton needs to rethink his approach on that end of the court, or else it’s going to be a very long season.