The Lakers lost to the Celtics on Thursday night in a game that saw fans at STAPLES for the first time all year and featured a massive late game comeback by the Lakers deep bench vs. the Celtics reserves that ultimately fell short. That loss stung some, but was lessened by the news that Anthony Davis was cleared for basketball activities and was nearing a return to the court, potentially as early as today’s game vs. the Jazz.
While it’s doubtful AD suits up this game — and even if he did, he’d be on a 15 minute restriction — that he’s close to returning is a real boost to a severely banged up team that is about to have a key 4 game stretch vs. good Western Conference teams that will have an impact on the standings. That begins with the back to back set vs. the Jazz in LA Saturday and Monday and then moves to Dallas for a back to back vs. the Mavs on Thursday and Saturday.
Getting back to the Jazz, though, they too will be missing some key players. Donovan Mitchell is out with a sprained ankle, and it was announced this morning that Mike Conley, Rudy Gobert, and Derrick Favors would all sit out as well. The Jazz still have some good talent in reserve, but now both teams stand on more equal footing from a talent perspective and make this matchup much more intriguing.
Defensively, the Lakers have fewer threats to worry about and will need to key in on Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Jordan Clarkson as their primary weapons. The Jazz will still space the floor and pack their lineup with capable shooters, but the geometry of the court changes some with both Conley and Mitchell missing from the wing and Gobert’s lob gravity now gone. In theory, if the Lakers are sharp, stepping up their defensive attention on who remains on the wing while being able to be a bit less attentive on paint threats they can leverage their perimeter defensive talent to slow down a normally potent Jazz offense.
Offensively, the Lakers ability to score will hinge a lot on who is available and whether the 3’s are falling. This isn’t new, so it’s not so important to dig in here. If Kuz, KCP, Wes, Caruso, and Dennis are making 3’s, the Lakers offense can thrive. If they don’t, things will sputter and they become prone to those 3-5 minute stretches where they go without a made field goal at all.
If there’s one player who can be a difference maker, however, it’s THT. His driving and ability to finish in the paint becomes much more valuable vs. a Jazz team missing both Gobert and Favors. And while the Jazz can still try to bottle him up at the point of attack, if THT can beat that first line of defense, he can open up really good scoring chances for himself and for teammates once he’s into the paint. There’s a level of decision making poise he’ll need to show, but he’s made strides there in recent weeks so the hope is that it can continue tonight.
Overall, a game that looked like an almost a certain loss just a couple of days ago looks much more competitive this morning. That said, the Lakers need to bring the requisite effort and attention to detail for them to win. Against the Celtics on Thursday, there were too many possessions that was not the case. Change that today and you give yourself a real chance.
Where you can watch: 1:30pm start time on Spectrum SportsNet and ESPN.