Records: Lakers 18-3, Jazz 12-9
Offensive ratings: Lakers 110.6 (7th), Jazz 105.3 (23rd)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 103.0 (5th), Jazz 104.1 (10th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee
Jazz: Emmanuel Mudiay, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert
Injuries: Lakers: Avery Bradley (out); Jazz: Mike Conley (out), Juwan Morgan (questionable)
The Lakers coming in: The Lakers beat the Nuggets on Tuesday night, punching early, absorbing some punches in the 3rd quarter, and then retaking control and delivering the knockout blow in the closing minutes to clinch the W. LeBron and AD put up the stats1With the latter playing massive defensively in the final 3 minutes., the role players all contributed, and Frank Vogel managed his rotation well through shorter shifts to give winded and tired players extra rest throughout the game.
All in all it was the type of performance I absolutely loved to watch, but more than that, one that came at the perfect time after the Lakers lacked prolonged focus in multiple games in the lead up to going to Denver.2Most of which they won, but with a rough loss to the Mavs to end their 10 game winning streak.
The Jazz coming in: There are certainly more disappointing teams than the 12-9 Jazz at this point in the NBA season, but if rattling off the names of teams who have not achieved to the level most had them at, Utah will certainly come up early in the conversation. After adding Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic in the off-season, a lot of smart people had the Jazz as a candidate to have the best record in the west and a darkhorse to reach the Finals. The thought was with an established defense in tow and a revamped offense boosted by their off-season acquisitions, the Jazz were ready to make a leap.
It’s not happened, though. The Jazz are currently 23rd in offensive rating and after hovering near the top of the league defensively through the season’s first 10 games or so, the Jazz are now 10th on that side of the ball. That type of profile isn’t much different that recent iterations of the Jazz, which, again, is disappointing. If you’re a Utah fan, though, slow-ish starts are something you’re used to. Last season Utah was 20-21 on the year before closing the year 30-11 to get to 50 wins. The year before that they were 19-28 before going 29-14 to end the year with 48 wins. A turnaround, then, is not out of the question by any means. Quinn Snyder is a very good coach and he knows how to connect with his team.
Still, though, Utah has last 4 of their last 5 games and it took a comeback from being 15 down to the Grizzlies to be winless in that stretch. Donovan Mitchell remains a monster and Bogdanovic has been really good as a secondary scorer, but until Conley picks it up, Joe Ingles finds his past form, and Gobert can get a few more scoring chances a game as a dive man in the P&R, this team looks to be good, but not great.
Keys to the game: The last time these teams faced off the Lakers won by making a lineup change at halftime — replacing JaVale with Caruso — to open up the offense and put more speed on the floor defensively. Sliding AD up to center pulled Gobert away from the basket and helped create driving lanes for LeBron while allowing AD to work facing up more as a catch and shoot player and off the dribble in isolation. The Jazz were missing Bogdanovic that game, but the Lakers pulled away with their top end talent carrying them home.
The Jazz will have Bojan this game, but will be without Mike Conley who is dealing with a tight hamstring. That will put former lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay into the starting group and will give Dante Exum a larger role. Considering Conley’s struggles this season, one can argue these changes aren’t really a downgrade overall, but I happen to think Conley’s steadiness will be missed.
Considering how the last game between these teams played out, one has to wonder if Vogel will go to the “AD at the 5” well again or if he’ll play this one more traditionally. The Jazz offer some challenges for AD if he has to defend Bogdanovic, so I’d like to think Vogel will lean towards going “small” so LeBron can play some PF defensively and the team can create better matchups 1-5. That said, coming off a game last night and with lots of guys under the weather, Vogel may not have the luxury of leaning too hard on any single player or style in order to get a win.
That last point probably matters more than any X’s and O’s stuff, here. The Lakers clearly have the talent and schemes to beat the Jazz. They’ve done it already this year and the Jazz aren’t playing close to their best ball coming in. But, if the Lakers are too fatigued and make the types of mental mistakes that come from being tired while being out-hustled, they’ll probably lose no matter the other variables.
The Lakers need to muster the effort. That might be easier said than done, particularly when playing in a hostile environment like Utah. But, if the Lakers can push through one more night, they get a day off and can recoup for Friday. Hopefully they have enough in them. I’d love for them to be able to build on Tuesday’s game.
Where you can watch: 6:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV.
*All stats via stats.nba.com