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Preview: Lakers vs. Jazz

A mark of a team that wants to win a title is pulling together against adversity. Even if earning their first win of the season showed what this team can do when they're on the same page, the Detroit Pistons last Sunday shouldn't be considered as a test for the Lakers (1-3).

They have one tonight.

Despite their similar 1-3 start and early struggles, the Utah Jazz (1-3) at the EnergySolutions Arena has been historically a tough team for the Lakers to play against in the regular season. Such a harsh environment for the purple and gold that they've never won 2 straight in Salt Lake City since the 1985-86 season. These two teams split last season's series at 2 apiece with each winning on the road. The Jazz has taken the last 5 of 7 games at home and won the last 2 games against the Lakers.

Utah isn't a particularly big team in the paint, but they have depth this year. They're solid in nearly every position with players that can shoot and defend. The Jazz didn't have a splashy off-season like the Lakers, but they certainly made some good moves. The biggest, perhaps, is the acquisition of 9-year veteran point guard Mo Williams from the Clippers.

In the first 4 games of the season, Williams is averaging 20.8 points and 6.8 assists. Laker fans should know how effective of a player Mo is to a team after watching him with the Clippers the previous 2 years and, of course, with Lebron James in Cleveland. But Williams isn't the only one who has been a thorn on the side of the Lakers.

Paul Millsap is one of the most underrated player in the NBA who doesn't let his undersized frame determine the hard work he brings each minute he's on the floor. He's always been an excellent rebounder and an above-average positional defender throughout his career. But now, he's improved his mid-range game so much that he's become a legit perimeter threat against any team. Millsap is averaging 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game.

The Lakers will have to try getting their 2nd win of the season without Steve Nash once again. Nash is expected to be out at least 10 days due to a non-displaced bone fracture in his fibula, an injury he suffered against Portland last Wednesday. Steve Blake should take over the starting role for Nash again tonight.

The Jazz are averaging 98.3 points (14th), 44.8 rebounds (8th) and have the 18th best defense in the league giving up 98.8 points per game.

The Lakers are ranked 9th on offense (100 PPG), 11th in rebounding (43.8 RPG) and 19th on defense (99.8 PPG).

If the Lakers want to continue making progress as a team, then they will have to continue to play as a team and with the energy and focus they showed last Sunday against the Pistons. The Jazz are a very different team at home because their crowd really gets behind them from start to finish.

We'll see if the Lakers also are consistent from beginning to end.

Matchup of the Game

Pau Gasol vs. Paul Millsap: Gasol should give Millsap fits in the block with his size and array of post moves. But Millsap could potentially offset all of that with his energy on the boards and ability to step outside and knock down those jumpers. If Pau wants to win this matchup, he'll need to be extra vigilant in boxing out and make Paul put the ball on the floor where his teammates can help him better on the defensive end.

Watchout For

LAKERS: Kobe Bryant – Unlike most players in the league, Bryant relishes playing in hostile environments like the one they have at EnergySolutions Areana. Kobe is averging a career 26 points per game against Utah and 30.8 points the last overall 6 games in Salt Lake City. With Nash on the shelf and needing to build on the win against Detroit, look for the Black Mamba to let it all out against a Jazz team without Raja Bell.

UTAH: Randy Foye – Another former Clipper who can get it going on offense if given a chance. Foye is averaging 12.8 points per game on 45.2% shooting from the field, including 42.1% from distance, off the bench. He can do damage if Kobe ignores him for much of the night.

Keys to the Game

> Energy: The Lakers know exactly what happens if they don't give the effort anywhere on the court. In a place where the crowd heckles at every missed shot and every mental mistake, it will be vital for the purple and gold to run out of that locker room ready to destroy.

> Turnovers: Yes, the Lakers certainly took better care of the ball against Detroit on Sunday, but that was at Staples Center playing in front of their fans. Expect the Jazz to pressure all passes heading into the paint due to their lack of size in there against both Gasol and Dwight Howard. The Lakers can't afford to be lazy in reading how Utah is defending each possession.

> Consistency: Regardless if the second unit for the Lakers happen to step it up tonight or not, it's more important for the entire team to keep their composure and stick to their gameplan on the road. One of the keys for them last game was they kept feeding the post players for the entire 48 minutes. Remember, the Jazz will do everything they can to discourage the Lakers to go inside constantly since that is their best chance against Pau and Dwight. It would be beneficial for the Lakers not to get suckered in to taking early shots.

Game Info

Tonight at Utah Jazz
Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. (PST)
EnergySolutions Arena
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN/1330 KWKW

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Steve Nash (will not play-hair fracture) and Kobe Bryant (ankle but expected to play)

JAZZ: None

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Preview: Lakers vs. Jazz

After playing 8 of their last 11 games at home, including the last 3, the Lakers will have 6 of their next 11 on the road starting tonight in Salt Lake City against the hot Utah Jazz (6-4). Last time the Lakers saw the Jazz, they didn’t look like a team that could even win half of their games this season. But this is the NBA. Teams can turn it around after getting the spark they need. For the Jazz, that came when they defeated the New Orleans Hornets at home following New Year’s Day.

Utah has won all 6 games of 2012 and are looking to get their 7th against the team that humiliated them at Staples Center on Jan. 27th, 96-71. No doubt they’re looking for some payback tonight. The Jazz are a totally different team when they’re playing at the EnergySolutions Arena. They’re just one of those clubs who really rely on their own crowd to step it up a notch. The purple and gold better be up to the task tonight or they’ll never get rid of the zero that’s been sitting underneath that “W” column on the road since opening night.

For some reason, the Lakers are just not getting it done away from home so far this year. It isn’t because they’re turning the ball over more. In fact, they’re averaging 13.3 giveaways per game on the road compared to 17.7 at home. The biggest culprit for them is their defense in the 2nd half or 3rd quarter to be more precisely. They just don’t get back on D in transition and allow the opposing guards to just wander in the paint without consequences from either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol.

Their effort on the boards and focus to run the offense from their best option on the floor are just non-existent, as well. The Lakers now have 11 games under their belt plus some practice time in between those games. I’d like to think they should know what they need to do starting tonight by now and make it happen. The Jazz may share the longest winning streak in the league with Philadelphia, but they’re still the smaller team that doesn’t really have a legit scorer other than Al Jefferson.

I don’t expect Kobe to erupt for another 40+ point game. Mike Brown will probably emphasize getting and wanting to be involved on offense more after seeing both Bynum and Gasol combine for just 28 shot attempts last night. The Phoenix Suns’ defense may have helped a little bit there, but Brown knows he can’t let the team get used to being a Kobe-centric offensive team again. Facing another small team in the paint, the Lakers have no excuse to let their 7-footers get the first bite on offense tonight.

The Jazz are averaging 92.9 points per game (20th) and allowing 95.1 points (16th) from the other team. They’re also ranked 19th in rebounds (41.6 RPG).

The Lakers have the 14th best offense averaging 95 points per contest but giving up just 90 per (4th) from their opponents. They top the league in rebounds gobbling 46.9 boards per game.

Matchup of the Game

Andrew Bynum vs. Al Jefferson: Jefferson only scored 4 points against the Lakers previously. He’s now averaging 21.8 since, including dropping 30 points on Cleveland last night. Then again, he’s facing Bynum who is having a great start of the season despite missing the first 4 games due to his league-mandated suspension. This is a matchup that benefits the Lakers on paper. But if Bynum comes out flat on defense and refuse to pass the ball on a double-team, the Jazz have a good chance of winning. Andrew is averaging 17.9 points, 14.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks so far this season.

Keys for the Lakers

1. Interior Defense: The Lakers may also need to have a solid transition game, but they’re facing the 4th best team when it comes to putting up points in the paint averaging 44.4 points per game. Mind you that doesn’t always involve post-players scoring but also perimeter players who are allowed to walk in unscathed.

2. Turnovers: They may have only committed 15 turnovers against Phoenix after having 27 versus the Grizzlies the previous game, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers have answered that issue. They’re limiting extra possessions to their opponents better on the road, but the Lakers have to make sure that continues. Or better yet, improve on that area of their game tonight.

3. Second Half: The final 24 minutes of the game have not been so kind to the Lakers of late because they simply don’t give the same amount of attention and gusto as they do during the opening half. It’s difficult to get better if their mindset continue to go south after coming out of the lockeroom at halftime. We’ll see what they do tonight.

Game Info

Where: EnergySolutions Arena – Salt Lake City, UT
When: Tonight at 6:00 p.m. (PST)
TV: KCAL
Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN
Tickets: TiqIQ

Injury Notes

LAKERS: Josh McRoberts: (sprained left big toe and left thumb) is doubtful. Troy Murphy: (gastroenteritis) is questionable.

JAZZ: None.

Preview: Lakers vs. Jazz

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is fouled by Utah Jazz forward C.J. Miles as Deron Williams looks on in the first quarter during Game 3 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff series in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

After passing a big test against Chicago on Tuesday, the Lakers (13-2) head out on the road for another one. The Utah Jazz (11-5) is one of the toughest teams in the league at home despite their 5-3 start at the EnergySolutions Arena. They defeated the third-best defensive team in New Orleans to complete their 3-game winning streak, but the Jazz have beaten Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Portland — all on the road. They’ve never been as good outside Utah in the past, but they’re trying to change that this season because they’re healthy and have acquired some help over the summer.

Carlos Boozer may have left them, but the Jazz never lost a presence in the paint. They traded seldom used Kosta Koufos for Al Jefferson — a bigger body and a more talented post-player than Boozer. Utah also recruited one of Kobe Bryant‘s old nemesis, Raja Bell to help them shore up their perimeter defense and add a bit of outside punch with his ability to shoot from behind the arc. Andrei Kirilenko is no longer injured and is having a good season so far. C.J. Miles has always been a solid backup that can score from anywhere and in bunches. But, the Jazz only goes as far as Deron Williams can take them.

Williams is playing his most minutes and most points in his 6-year career at 39.6 MPG and 21.3 PPG. If you remember, Deron made quite a statement about the Lakers over the summer by saying, “I hate them because they win all the time. They’re a tough team. We definitely talk about it. It’s not a secret. We hate the Lakers.”


That’s probably because the Jazz have ran into the Lakers in the playoffs 3 times since the start of the new century and have been eliminated each and every time, including suffering a sweep in last season’s Western Conference Semi-Finals. To top it off, they’ve also lost the last 3 season series against the 2-time defending champs.

Utah is currently 12th on offense putting up 100.6 points per outing but has the 11th best defense in the league allowing 98.1 points per game. They have the top spot in the Northwest Division right now, but they’ve lost 3 straight games at home against teams that participated in last year’s playoffs. Being the 5th worst rebounding team and having one of the least-scoring bench (23.9 PPG) in the NBA could prove disastrous against a Laker team that’s tops in rebounding (46.3 RPG) and has a bench that scores 36 points per contest.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are looking for their 6th win in a row and second win (not counting the playoffs) at the EnergySolutions Arena. They defeated the Jazz in their second game in Utah by 15 points last season, but this game could be a close one tonight. The Lakers are 5-1 on the road this season so far.

GO LAKERS!!!

TP&G Blog’s Matchup of the Game

Derek Fisher vs. Deron Williams: Former teammates that know one another’s tendencies. But, Fish has always done well against Williams because he can body him up and knows where Deron likes to get his shots. Derek has been shooting well this season averaging 55% from distance and 44% from 2-pointers. Fish will need to make Deron play defense and make him work for his shots on the other end as well if the Lakers were to make their first meeting with the Jazz a success.

Keys for the Lakers

Offense

1. Dominate the Paint: Teams that can score inside is still one of Utah’s biggest weaknesses. After having a sub-par game against Chicago on Tuesday, I expect Pau Gasol to redeem himself tonight. But, Lamar Odom should also look to score since the Jazz have no answer for him either.
2. The Bench: The Killer Bs should force their will on the Jazz’s second unit. If they do, this could be another easy W for the Lakers.
3. Don’t Turn the Ball Over: Utah brings a different energy on the court at home and is 9th in the league in forcing turnovers at 15.8 per game. That could be a major factor in the outcome of this game. So, the Lakers have to be extra careful with their passing and how they handle the ball on their drives to the rim.

Defense

1. Contain Williams: Much like Derrick Rose, Williams is the conductor of the Jazz. He has improved his outside shot almost each season and is as good getting into the paint as any guard in the league. But, the Lakers have Fisher, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown to throw at him. Hopefully, one of these guys can do the job against Deron tonight.
2. Dominate the Glass: Paul Milsap may only be 6′ 7″, but he’s a beast under the basket averaging 8.9 RPG. Odom will need to keep an eye on him while helping out Pau clean up the boards. The Lakers are still having a tough time preventing their opponents to just one shot per trip down. Hopefully, they’ll start to pick it up tonight.
3. Play Smart Defense: Jefferson and Milsap love to get their defenders in the air with upfakes. Gasol, Odom and Derrick Caracter will need to be really aware of that since the Lakers are still short on the frontcourt.

Game Info

Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. (PST).  TV: KCAL-9 (local)  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

Other Notes

The Lakers got into their Thanksgiving Day tradition at practice by pitting the small players versus the big players that’s what is now known as the “Turkey Trot“. It’s also an excellent way of preparing for their game against Utah tonight. The Jazz is notorious for their overzealous screens, so this could help the guards deal with the array of screen-and-rolls Utah will give them tonight.

Preview: Lakers vs. Jazz

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The Lakers (18-3) have their first extended road trip of the season playing their first of five tonight against the Utah Jazz (13-9) and ends in Detroit. But looking at that road schedule, four of five opponents have a winning record at home with the Jazz being the toughest because of its hostile environment and the fact that the Jazz play their best games at the Energy Solutions Arena.

After getting embarassed by the Lakers in the fourth quarter of a 101-77 blowout last Wednesday, the Jazz responded by beating Orlando (the second best team in the east) 120-111 at home. So it’s an understatement when I say they’re out to get the Lakers tonight. Utah has the second best record (after the Lakers) at home in the NBA at 10-3. But it doesn’t matter what record they have at home, we Laker fans are well aware of how difficult it is to win in Utah.

However, the major concern for the Lakers right now is the injury to Kobe Bryant‘s finger. Kobe was cautious during his post-game interview last night saying that he isn’t sure if the finger won’t bother him tonight or for the rest of the season. He also added that the finger is numb and will have to get used to having a splint on it.

Until the injury has been examined further by doctors, there is no telling if any surgery is needed or if it simply needs time to heal. Either way, sitting out games is a possibility for Kobe. We’ll just have to wait for the official report.

Kobe injured his right index finger during the first quarter last night in their 104-92 victory against the T’Wolves when Corey Brewer slapped at the ball Kobe was receiving hitting his hand in the process. He was diagnosed with an avulsion fracture which is a small lateral break of a bone in his index finger.

Tonight, the Lakers will have to refocus and get rid of any thoughts of a second of a back-to-back game. They didn’t look good in their last two games, albeit wins, with too many turnovers, often lazy defense, poor execution on offense, bad fast breaks, and playing on cruise control when the opponent has stepped it up a notch.

But Phil Jackson and his coaching staff have done an incredible job at instilling the attitude and determination on offense and defense this early in the season. So, I don’t doubt the Lakers are also ready for the task ahead of them.

The keys for the Lakers tonight is to ignore the hostile Utah aficionados and play their own intense brand of basketball. The Jazz are the same small team they played in Los Angeles, but with a bit of bite in them. But if the Lakers match their energy (and the Jazz will come out with a lot), slow down the tempo, reduce the turnovers to a minimum, play good defense (Derek Fisher will really need to control Deron Williams), and execute on offense, I don’t see why the Lakers can’t fly out of Utah with their winning streak in tack.


Tip-off is at 6:00. TV: KCAL-9  Radio: 710/1330 AM ESPN

GO LAKERS!!!

Injury Update: Kobe fully participated in the team’s shootaround today and will mostly likely play tonight. This doesn’t exactly comes as a shock to us Laker fans. We all know there’s really nothing that could keep #24 from playing.

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