After a frustrating loss to the young Sacramento Kings the night before, the Lakers hope to get their first win of the season against the Utah Jazz at the Staples Center. Starting off the season 0-2, Mike Brown is fighting to get his first Lakers win under his belt, and hoping to impress the fans who haven’t been seeing anything positive from their team after the denied Chris Paul trade weeks before.
While the Jazz, who missed last season’s playoffs for the first time in 5 years, seem to be an easy opponent, the young talent on their roster could prove to be another problem, which could lead the Lakers to their first 0-3 season in over 30 years. The youngsters will definitely get a lot of playing time, as Deron Williams was traded to the Nets last season and Mehmet Okur followed to New Jersey on Thursday. Derrick Favors is looking to be one of the Jazz key players, along with 2010 first round draft pick out of Butler Gordon Hayward. Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Devin Harris and Paul Millsap are all looking to shine against the Lakers, who are looking to work through the injuries of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts to establish dominance in the west again.
With the Lakers still looking to impress under Mike Brown, the Jazz are trying to redeem themselves under coach Tyrone Corbin, who after taking over due to the departure of Jerry Sloan could only finish the last season out with an 8-20 record for himself, leaving the Jazz 39-43.
The game started out slow. Both the Lakers and Jazz had trouble finding any sort of rhythm on the offensive end. The Lakers didn’t look at all improved from the night before. The Jazz took the lead early, making plenty of defensive rebounds and capitalizing on their shot opportunities. Utah’s aggressiveness enabled them to force turnovers and keep a dominant lead in the first 10 minutes of their season opener. A lot of fouls were committed on both ends of the court, with a total of 13 fouls to end the quarter.
Too many turnovers and not enough ball movement by Los Angeles made it seem like the Lakers were headed towards another loss, until we finally saw the Pau Gasol that has been missing since before last seasons playoffs.
The Lakers turned to tables within the final two minutes, going on a 12-6 run. L.A.’s defense, mostly with the help of Pau Gasol, made the Jazz’ shot selections more difficult as well. Gasol was kept in the whole 12 minutes of the first quarter, as he led the Lakers to the end of the first up one, 18-17.
Metta World Peace opened up the quarter with a quick basket, giving the Lakers their largest lead of the game at three. The Jazz missed their eleventh shot attempt in a row, while they continued to struggle offensively, as the Lakers defense continued to be all over them. L.A. was able to keep Millsap from taking many shots, and Gordon Hayward had yet to find the net, finding himself on the bench for the first half of the quarter.
The movement of the ball with Blake, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and McRoberts was proving too much for the Jazz. Even Blake was playing improved from the game in Sacramento, making the important wide-open threes and easily feeding McRoberts to put the Lakers on a 7-0 run forcing a Utah timeout. The feeding of passes to both McRoberts and Pau Gasol, along with Kobe’s dribble penetration had the Jazz on guard, allowing the 16 time champions to prove they were no longer wanting to play sluggish and ready to compete. Steve Blake began to play more confident, taking on the defense an even penetrating the top of the key himself to find easy baskets.
The Lakers then started pulling away, with a 13-0 run going, and the Jazz unable to make a single basket. Gordon Hayward finally scored with around three minutes remaining, showing his youth penetrating the paint and being fouled to complete the three point play. If the Jazz were able to show that young spark and play with the tenacity Hayward showed, Utah may have been on top of the veteran Lakers.
L.A. was able to excel over the Jazz with quick ball movement, especially the plays when every player on the court had a touch. The Jazz continued to struggle due to flat feet, not capitalizing on their many shot opportunities, and not coming at the Lakers defense with the young spark that they have. Pau Gasol, also, was proving too much for them in the paint, as his rebounds and 11 points controlled the court. The Lakers ended the half on top, 41-31.
The Lakers entered the second half even more tenacious than before, continuing to move and pass the ball around to create the best shot opportunities, taking their lead up to 27 points. Derek Fisher began to silence everyone saying his age is a key factor to the Lakers demise, running past the young Jazz defense for easy layups and drawing fouls to complete even easier three point plays.
The Lakers play improved so much with just the difference in play from Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Both of the point guards being on their game, feeding the ball while making the correct passes, and playing smart leads the whole team to smarter play. This was proving the Lakers were finally looking like they wanted to make another championship run.
The Jazz couldn’t get anything to work, being held under 50 points after three quarters and having no players on the court other than Paul Millsap with over nine points. Their season opener proved that it was going to be another long season for Utah fans.
Kobe Bryant also stepped his game up in the third, dropping 11 of his 19 points and getting more rebounds. It was good to see him able to take some time on the bench as well, as the Lakers second string was proving their worth keeping the Lakers lead healthy heading into the fourth quarter. The quarter finished with Los Angeles way ahead, up 71-46.
The fourth started with World Peace, McRoberts, Kapono, Murphy and Blake on the floor, giving them time to finally earn minutes and give a few of the injured starters some much needed rest after their three games in three nights. Kapono showed his worth from downtown, hitting his first three of the game putting the lead up to 29.
The importance of the play from these five men throughout the season will be more apparent as playoffs approaches or injuries occur, as the development of other teams around the league proves that the Lakers can’t just depend on the game of Kobe and Gasol anymore. Although the Jazz were finally able to find baskets and not look as mediocre as they did in the past two quarters, the necessary ball movement continued for the Lakers, and Troy Murphy coming off of the bench with 11 rebounds was something that Utah couldn’t compete with.
A 9-0 run by Utah made Kobe, Gasol and Fisher appear back on the court, as Mike Brown didn’t want to take any more chances after the Lakers lost their 11 point lead against the Bulls on Christmas day. The rest seemed to be just what Kobe needed, as he hopped back onto the court with five quick points, including a graceful three pointer that put them back up by 24. The shot selection of Bryant may have been a key factor in the first two losses of the season, but tonight everything seemed to be going right for him.
The Lakers play continued too tough for Utah, and almost everyone hit the court, with even Luke Walton and Andrew Goudelock hitting the court with under two minutes remaining.
The key, and who seemed to be the only player for the Jazz was Paul Millsap, who lead the team off of the bench with 18 points, shooting 7-16. He also had eight rebounds and a single block.
For Los Angeles it was Kobe Bryant who lead the team with 26 points, 19 of them coming in the second half. Pau Gasol also returned to form, with 22 points and nine rebounds. A huge statistic for L.A. also was the rebounding by Troy Murphy, leading the team with a solid 11. The Lakers clenched their first victory under Mike Brown, beating the young Utah Jazz 96-71.
The Lakers have their first day off since the season started, hosting the New York Knicks on Thursday night.