Dominated, eliminated, and swept are exactly the kind of words you can use when you talk about the Utah Jazz‘s playoff matchup with the Lakers last season (and that’s without counting the other 3 previous playoff exits for the Jazz at the hands of the 2-time defending champs). So, it’s not a complete surprise why Utah’s Deron Williams told Dime Magazine earlier this month that he and his teammates “hate the Lakers.” Then again, how many times have Laker fans all over the world heard the word “hate” and “Lakers” in the same sentence from a lot of non-Laker fans since, well, anybody can remember?
The Lakers have now won 2 in a row in this pre-season defeating the Denver Nuggets in the first day of the “Shootout” at Staples Center Saturday night 102-95. They’ll try to win another one to conclude the “Shootout” undefeated. Speaking of undefeated, the Jazz are just that winning all 5 of their pre-season games so far. They’ll attempt to keep that streak alive against the foe that always seem to have their number anywhere they play.
Utah was one of the teams this past summer that participated in some of the league’s most noteable transactions. They saw their star forward Carlos Boozer leave them for Chicago but quickly fixed that big hole in the paint with Minnesota’s own star forward Al Jefferson in exchange for benchwarmer Kosta Koufos. Jefferson is the bigger body of the two and is the better post-defender, but like Boozer, he has yet to prove that he can be counted on to help lead the team deep into the playoffs. The problem there is Boozer outweighs Jefferson in playoff experience.
As for the purple and gold, they are simply just continuing to let their new free agent additions and rookies get a better feel for the Triangle and pace the starters to get them as healthy as possible for the start of the season later this month. That and finding some rhythm and consistency for opening night. Kobe Bryant‘s progress is, of course, still under Phil Jackson‘s radar, but that isn’t exactly a priority for Phil. He knows Kobe is coming along and will be ready against the Rockets on opening night.
What to Look for Against Utah
• The Jazz may have a new piece in the post, but even that doesn’t take their eyes away from Williams (who has been averaging 12.5 PPG and 4 APG in pre-season). Expect him to be the focal point of the Laker defense. Derek Fisher has been a thorn on Deron’s side defensively, but we’ll see what Steve Blake does against him on both ends of the floor.
• Pau Gasol vs. Al Jefferson: That is going to be the matchup of the game. Both guys are scoring just about the same at 15 points a game in pre-season, but Gasol is rebounding more per outing at 7.5 RPG compared to 5.8 for Jefferson. Expect Jefferson to try to get Pau in foul trouble early by using a series of pumpfakes. He likes to use his shoulders to score down-low against most defender, but Pau isn’t like most defenders. He has the length, smarts, and enough athleticism to take on most challengers.
• Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes will be the key players. Lamar’s quickness and length will be to the Lakers’ advantage on offense, but he will need to battle rebounding machine Paul Milsap on the boards 24/7. Barnes will be counted on to defend athletic slasher C.J. Miles, who happens to be Utah’s spark plug off of the bench. This guy can be scrappy and can go on a scoring spree if left unattended early.
Sunday, Oct. 17th at Staples Center. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.
TV: FoxSports West RADIO: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Injury Notes: Sasha Vujacic will not be available due to concussion. He will be re-evaluated on Monday.
Other Notes: Ron Artest no longer wants to be called “Thriller” (which was given to him for his honor of Michael Jackson‘s 37-week rule at the top spot by wearing #37 on his jersey last year). We all now have to call him by his old nickname, “Tru Warier”. If you are still wondering about what Artest is planning on doing with his championship ring, he is now raffling it off on Christmas Day when the Lakers take on the Miami Heat at Staples Center on his website www.ronartest.com. Raffle tickets are going for $2 per. Proceeds will go directly to his newly-established mental-health program for kids, Xcel University. Go to his website for complete details.
Here’s a video of him talking about the auction and his nickname courtesy of L.A. Times: