Even though the Lakers fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, the team showed resiliency and a level of toughness that it had not previously shown this season. They were down most of the game against the Thunder, but the team fought back in the fourth quarter to make it interesting and outscored the Thunder 33-25 in the final period. They were without Steve Nash and Pau Gasol once again. Nash’s return is still an unknown, though it’s estimated to be about another one to two weeks. The Lakers, now 9-11, need to take any positivity they can get from losses and will need to translate their energy from the fourth quarter against the Thunder to tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers will also be happy to return to their home floor, where they are 7-5 on the season.
The Lakers first matchup of the season with the Jazz ended in a 95-86 defeat as well as the end of the Mike Brown coaching era in Los Angeles. The Jazz enter with an 11-10 record, but are a dismal 3-9 away from their home arena. The Jazz come in off a 131-99 blowout win over the Toronto Raptors in a game where they did not have their leading scorer and rebounder in center Al Jefferson as well as key reserve big man Derrick Favors. Both Jefferson and Favors are questionable for tonight’s matchup.
Frontcourt: When everyone on their roster is healthy, the Jazz front court is the team’s strength. Al Jefferson is one of the best back to the basket players in the NBA and will command Dwight Howard’s full attention if he does indeed suit up. Jefferson, however, is limited defensively and the Jazz will likely bring a double team on Dwight if Jefferson is matched up against him, possibly opening up opportunities on the outside for the Lakers. Favors would likely get the start if he is able to play and Jefferson is not, and he is much more sound defensively than Jefferson. However, Favors is rather limited offensively.
Paul Millsap is one of the grittiest players in the NBA and is entering his seventh season, all with the Jazz. As an undersized power forward, Millsap brings energy and aggressiveness on the backboards as well as in attacking the rim on offense. He is exactly the kind of player that could give the Lakers a long night if they come out with the lackluster energy that has characterized many of their losses this season. He comes in averaging 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per night, good for second on the team in both categories. Antawn Jamison, who will continue to start in Gasol’s absence, will have to focus hard on keeping him off the glass.
Backcourt: Mo Williams, a Los Angeles Clipper last season, is now the starting point guard for the Jazz, where he began his career. Williams is one of the streakiest shooters in the league and can get hot from the three point line at any moment. A former all-star as LeBron James’ sidekick on the Cleveland Cavaliers, Williams is a solid distributor as well and comes in averaging 7.2 assists a night. As will be the case every night until Nash comes back, the Lakers will be at a disadvantage at the point guard position.
Randy Foye and Gordon Hayward essentially split time at the off-guard position for the Jazz. Foye has been in the starting lineup of late, but Hayward is the more dangerous player of the two. Foye is an outstanding outside shooter at 44.7 pecent from beyond the arc, but that is the only part of his game that must be game-planned for. Hayward will likely get the majority of the minutes tonight, as Foye is simply too small to match up with Kobe Bryant. Hayward is a former first round pick out of Butler University who is a threat to drive to the basket or shoot from the outside. He is a big part of the future plans for the Jazz, as he is only in his third season and is continuing to improve his all-around game. Hayward is averaging a career high 13.6 points per game.
Keys to Victory:
Guard the Three Point Line: Though the strength of the Jazz is their front court, having Dwight Howard in the middle negates that advantage. The Jazz, however, are a deadly three point shooting team and rank seventh in the league in three point percentage. Players such as Williams, Foye, and Hayward must be accounted for and their looks from the three point line must be contested. Also, Kobe and Metta World Peace have been very poor this season at fighting around screens, an area that they need to improve upon.
Limit Turnovers: The Lakers rank sixth in point differential (+3.6 per game), seventh in points per game (101.4 per game), and second in the league in rebounding (46.3 per game). When you look at these stats, one would think the Lakers had a solid record. However, they come in with the highest average number of turnovers per game. Limiting turnovers is going to be a key in every Lakers game from here on out. A team like the Jazz, who are already strong offensively (100.5 points per game), do not need any extra opportunities to score. Chris Duhon and Darius Morris must do a better job of getting the Lakers organized in their sets.
Utah Jazz (11-10) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (9-11)
6:30 PM PST, December 9, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA CA TV: TWCSN
Jazz Projected Starting Line-up
PG: Mo Williams, SG: Randy Foye SF: Marvin Williams PF: Paul Millsap C: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves: G Gordon Hayward, F Derrick Favors, G DeMarre Carroll