Utah Jazz (0-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (0-2)
7:30 PM PST, December 27, 2011
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 ESPN
Jazz Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Devin Harris
SG: Raja Bell
SF: C.J. Miles
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Jefferson
Key Reserves: F Gordon Hayward, PF Derrick Favors, C Enes Kanter
Looking for their first win of the season, the Lakers return to Los Angeles to face the Utah Jazz in the last game of their back-to-back-to-back set of opening games. The Jazz come into Staples Center for their season opener with a 56-98 all-time record against the Lakers, and a 4-19 record against the Lakers at the Staples Center.
Frontcourt: Utah’s frontcourt has drastically changed in the days leading up to the opening tip-off of the 2011-12 season with the trade of All-Star center Mehmet Okur to the New Jersey Nets for a future second-round draft pick and a trade exception. Therefore, the Jazz are built around center Al Jefferson, who averaged 11 points per game and 6 rebounds per game last season. Look for rookie center from Kentucky Enes Kanter to have a big game off the glass. Kanter is an impressive rebounder, who grabbed 10 rebounds to go along with six points in their second pre-season game against Portland. However, the refreshing surprise for the Jazz has been the fast emergence of NBA sophomore Derrick Favors, who averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds during the pre-season and is rumored to be permanently replacing Paul Millsap as a starter.
Backcourt: Utah’s SG Raja Bell always relishes the idea of guarding Kobe Bryant, which started when Bell was playing for Phoenix. However, Bryant has the upper hand offensively and can certainly hold his own on the defensive side. Devin Harris, who started off last season with the New Jersey Nets, has had big shoes to fill replacing the elite Deron Williams. However, a healthy Harris has plenty of skills to easily win the point guard battle against the Lakers. Harris is coming off 15 points per game and five assists per game averages last season, yet he has fallen short of being able to get the team involved on the offensive end. Harris does have the quickness that cannot be matched by Derek Fisher or Steve Blake.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Bench Production: Anytime a team plays three games in three consecutive nights, a solid performance by the reserves is key to coming away with a win. This is especially true since the Lakers are coming off a quick road trip and a tough loss to Sacramento. The Lakers’ aging bodies will require more rest on the bench and will need the bench to hold their own on the floor.
Control the Boards: The Utah Jazz averaged 46.5 rebounds per game during the pre-season. Derrick Favors and backup center Enes Kanter are big threats on the boards, especially on the offensive end, which can lead to second chance opportunities. Since the Jazz will have fresher legs than the Lakers, it is critical for the Lakers to control the rebounding game, especially with the absence of Andrew Bynum.
Control the Pace of the Game: The Jazz have young and athletic players, especially coming off the bench. This can be an obstacle for the Lakers, who will be most likely tired physically and mentally playing three games in three nights. The Lakers need to control the pace of the game, especially on the defensive end, and force outside shots. On the offensive end, look for Kobe to have a typical big game against Utah and Pau Gasol to add to his averages with more mid-range shots.