Lakers Soar into Break with Blowout Win in Utah

Do we really have to do the All-Star break now? Can't we keep this going a wee bit longer?

The Lakers are just crushing it these days. Three straight games without Kobe Bryant (and mostly without Andrew Bynum), three straight ownages of Western Conference playoff contenders. The latest stunner came tonight in Salt Lake City, where the Lakers dropped the Jazz to the mat with devastating early punches and never let them back up. The final score was 96 to 81. Coming into the game Utah had won nine straight overall and 10 straight at home.

Somehow, in the absence of Kobe and Drew, the Lakers have become an immovable defensive force. Against Portland on Saturday, they allowed 0.98 points per possession. Against the Spurs on Monday, they allowed 0.97 PPP. Tonight the allowed the Jazz a ridiculous 0.87 points per trip. Keep in mind, these are three of the eight best offenses in the NBA.

Yes, the Jazz were playing the tail end of a back-to-back, having faced the Clippers in Staples yesterday. And yep, they missed 12 of their 25 free-throw attempts. But had they made their usual 74% from the stripe, that would've added just seven points to their game total. That doesn't eliminate even half the Lakers' margin of victory, and it brings their offensive efficiency up to only 0.95 PPP. Still a resplendent defensive performance.

The Lakers succeeded tonight by forcing turnovers early and missed shots all night long. They were all over Utah's passing lanes, disrupting the pick-and-roll attack better than I've ever seen the franchise do. And just as against the Spurs, the Lakers' interior length frustrated the opposition's attempt to get near the hoop and forced them to chuck from outside, where the Jazz failed to hit with any regularity. (Pau Gasol had five blocks tonight, giving him 10 over the last two games.)

Everybody's bringing it on D right now, and it's fair to ask why that is. Is it that everyone's getting their touches on offense, and therefore feels motivated to get after it at the other end? Is it energy from knowing that without Kobe and Drew, cranking up the D is the only way to get wins? I don't pretend to know, but I think we're beyond chalking it up to momentary rally-‘round-the-flag adrenaline.

On offense tonight, Pau, Lamar Odom and Jordan Farmar were the breadwinners. Those three combined for 65 points, over two-thirds of the team's total, on ultra-efficient 79% True Shooting. Everyone else combined for 31 points on 33% True Shooting. As a team the best thing the Lakers did is exploit Utah's foul-happy tendencies by earning and making free-throw attempts. There were some fun moments with the scrubs, as when Sasha Vujacic found DJ Mbenga with a behind-the-back feed and a fast-break dunk.

Clearly, Pau and Lamar have emerged as the two main Laker power sources in this, the Kobe Interregnum. It's a great reminder of who these guys are: frontline stars who willingly accept secondary roles on a loaded roster. That the Lakers can lose two huge pieces in Kobe and Drew but still roll out waves of elite talent is what separates them from the rest of the league.

 

Poss.

TO%

FTA/
FGA

FT%

3FGA/FGA

2PT%

3PT%

EFG

TS%

OReb Rate

DReb Rate

PPP

L.A.

92

20

0.31

79

0.17

48

39

50

55

25

78

1.04

Utah

93

18

0.33

52

0.17

50

15

45

47

22

75

0.87

Follow Dex on Twitter here.

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