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.
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.
Tonight at Utah Jazz
Tip-off is at 6:00 p.m. (PST)
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN/1330 KWKW
LAKERS: Steve Nash (will not play-hair fracture) and Kobe Bryant (ankle but expected to play)