Look, when the Lakers play the Jazz on Wednesday night I fully expect them to lose. Not only to lose, but to get their asses kicked. The Lakers, as I’ve mentioned multiple times recently, are not good. The Jazz, meanwhile, are playing some of the best basketball in the entire league. Those two things would need to inverse (or close to it) for the result I anticipate to not come to fruition. Based on the odds, then, I am content with my prediction of what is to come.
In saying all that, there are things about this matchup that interest me. Because I do not want to write things with any sort of flow or connective tissue in a paragraph form, here are some bullet points of those things:
- Gasol vs. Gobert. On the one hand, Gobert’s rolling and lob catching ability will likely be really hard for Marc to handle. Gobert consistently plays above the rim and there may not be a starting center in the league who plays below the rim more often than Gasol. I expect Rudy to screen and roll, both on and off the ball, all night and for him to get easy baskets on lobs and dump off passes a lot tonight. On the other hand, Gasol’s penchant for playing offense from perimeter could have some positive effects for the Lakers offense. Marc will need to hit shots for this to really come to fruition, but simply him stationing himself in the corner and above the break for 3’s can give the Lakers some juice via driving lanes and post ups for LeBron.
- Conley and Mitchell vs. KCP, Wes, Caruso, and Kuz. Conley and Mitchell are playing like one of the best backcourts in the league, if not the very best. Mitchell is a deserved All-Star and if the West wasn’t so stacked at guard, Conley would likely make it too. He still might as a replacement for AD. The Lakers perimeter defenders, then, will have their hands full trying to contain these guys. I expect the Jazz to win more of these battles than they lose, but there’s two matchups I’ll be watching for specifically that could end up mattering: Conley vs. Caruso and Kuz vs. Mitchell. If this game is close down the stretch, it would not surprise me if it was because these defensive matchups favored the Lakers in some limited minutes that they lineup that way. Just keep an eye out.
- Who guards LeBron? I get that Royce O’Neal will get the first crack. If Bron is on his game at even 80% of normal, this will not work. Bojan Bogdanovic will also get tries. As will, I’d assume, Joe Ingles and Georges Niang. Bron can lay waste to all of these guys if he has the legs and commitment to do so. Whether that happens tonight is not as relevant to me as what would happen in the playoffs if/when these teams face off. Which is what matters in the big picture but does not really matter tonight. I’ll still be paying attention, though.
- I’m just going to use this sentence to say I am proud of you, Jordan Clarkson. There was a time when people thought you’d never be more than a chucker who didn’t really defend and wouldn’t ever be a high level contributor on a team expected to compete for championships. This year he is proving that incredibly wrong and is the frontrunner for 6th man of the year. He’s playing great and I’m very happy for him.
- Utah’s shooting is going to be a problem. They run great actions and make the unselfish pass damn near every time to set up teammates for good looks. There may not be a more symbiotic relationship between a roll man (Gobert) and shooters (every other Jazz player besides Favors) than what exists for the Jazz. Rudy frees up guys with screens and then his rolls draw help and the Jazz perimeter guys spray the ball all over the floor until they get a good shot. The Lakers defense is simply not equipped with their current personnel to slow this down to a level I’ll be comfortable with. Maybe that’s too pessimistic, but I just have a hard time seeing it tonight. That said, this type of game will give the Lakers reps defensively that can matter in the big picture. I hope they hustle their tails off and really chase hard and show good closeout discipline when doing so. Give yourself a shot and see how it goes.
- This is a game where the Lakers offense will need to show up. It has not shown up lately, which is why I’m concerned. That said, KCP has shown some life in the last couple of games and Bron is always more than capable. Kuz and Wes are wildcards here because if both them and KCP can have good shooting nights the Lakers can be in business. Add some timely shots from Keef and things are getting closer to where they’ll need to be. That’s a lot that needs to go right, but these guys are capable even if they haven’t done it consistently lately.
- Trez. Let’s go Trez. Favors is the type of equal footing matchup that Trez will need to win tonight for the Lakers to have any sort of shot at taking this game. Favors is strong and is a good defensive player. Similar to the current version of Al Horford, but with a bit less craft and reputation. What Favors is not is tall and long and that means Trez has more avenues to success when taking it to Favors’ chest and trying to over the top of him. If Trez can score and draw fouls and get after it on the backboards, it would be really nice to see.
- One X’s and O’s note: A play I’d like to see the Lakers go to is the P&R action where the screener rolls down the lane as a lead blocker for LeBron to drive to the basket. This is an effective action vs. the drop coverages the Jazz employ and Trez — who is a natural roller — can make a difference offensively without scoring just by doing this effectively. I hope to see this action a handful of times tonight.
I do not think this game matters much in the larger scheme of things, win or lose. The Lakers are very shorthanded with the two players who I think will matter a great deal in any matchup with the Jazz. AD can, at his best, neutralize Gobert and Dennis is a good defensive option vs. Conley and the type of smaller scoring guard who can fluster Utah’s want to protect the paint by his driving and pull up shooting. Without either, this matchup not only becomes so much harder for the Lakers but it makes it so that even if they win it wouldn’t likely translate much because AD/Dennis will be such fixtures of future gameplans.
That said, all I really want is a competitive game. I already told you what I expect to happen, so I don’t think I’ll get what I want. But….
Where you can watch: 7:00pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN nationally.