You know how we do. If there's a series, we authors are going to let you know what we think will happen, so that we can be made to look like oracles or idiots with evidence to back it up. So, without further ado, here's what we're expecting in the next series.
Lakers in 5
If it weren't for Andrew Bynum's latest injury, I'd be tempted to pick a Lakers sweep. That's how much I'm on board with the "Jazz don't match up well with LA" line of thinking. Even with an absent or impaired Bynum, the Lakers have enough frontline size and talent to work Utah over inside. That the Laker shooters seem to have pulled out of their collective slump also points to a short series. I think the sequence will be very much like what we saw in last year's first round: the Lakers will take the first two games at Staples, and then drop one in Salt Lake City in front of an energized Jazz crowd. A narrow Laker win in Game Four will effectively suck the life out of Utah's upset hopes, and the deathblow will fall back in LA. Kobe Bryant will look like his old self a bit more consistently.
Lakers in 5
Fact is, the Lakers own the Jazz. They have so this season, they did so last year in the Playoffs. This has sweep potential. And, even the Utah crowd will lose some of its bite after the Lakers have already won a game in an opposition arena packed with an even louder (if less hostile) crowd. What's important is injuries. I've heard Andrei Kirilenko is targeting Game 3 for his return, and if so that's likely a Jazz win. Mehmet Okur likely won't be coming back, and Deron will likely play through his injury but it remains to be seen at what level of effectiveness. On our side, I've got no word on Sasha but he should be back this series, and there's an off-chance he'll come out hot from three to match Derek Fisher and to a lesser extent, Shannon Brown. Andrew Bynum's injury is likely something he could play through, as he has already done so, but there's no need to risk it and I would be comfortable with our chances of winning at least the first two games without him. Kobe's slowly coming back, Pau is step-step-steppin' it up, Fisher is making Dex seem like a fool, as per usual (:P), our bench is playing well. All that remains is for Odom to be that little bit more assertive and Artest to break out of his shooting slump. With those two, a Lakers sweep; without, it's a 5-6 game series. Most likely is Lakers in 5, with Game Three being their sole loss.
Lakers in 5
I pick the Lakers in 5, regardless of Bynum's injury. I think the Lakers are finally where they should be.
Lakers in 5
It seems we're all unanimous in our expectations about this series. I wanted to change it up, wanted to say that with the injury to Bynum, there was a close in the available talent gap to just enough that the Lakers would have to bring it to ensure victory, and that this team is known to not bring it if they don't think they need to. I wanted to point out that we might be going from the best home court advantage in the league to the 2nd or 3rd best, and beating the Jazz on their home floor is no easy feat. I wanted to say all that, and come through with a more conservative prediction of 6 or 7 games, but I just can't.
There is not a team in this league that the Lakers have treated more like a little brother than the Utah Jazz, because the Lakers seemingly have the ability to shut the Jazz down whenever they choose. Exhibit A is the 6 pt 4th quarter the Lakers held the Jazz to in December. Exhibit B is the victory in Utah, without Kobe Bryant, which ended a 9 game Utah win streak. Exhibit C is the final match-up of the regular season. The Lakers lost 4 of 5 games from the end of March to the beginning of April. That victory? A double digit defeat of the Jazz. Over the past three seasons, with both teams' rosters having no significant changes, the Lakers are 16-6 against the Jazz, and all 6 of those losses have come on the road. Just going based on those numbers, 5 games is the pick, and it doesn't even take into account the level of injuries the Jazz are struggling through right now.
Yeah, the Jazz are struggling. We've got our own nicks to worry about, but we don't have the heat to fight fire with fire in this conversation. Memo Okur is the killer. For the Jazz to have a chance in hell, Memo was needed to stretch the defense and clear out the paint for Carlos Boozer and the tireless Utah motion. Now? Gasol and/or Bynum need never leave the lane, which will make it even harder for Utah to score. At this point, the Jazz have Deron Williams playing at an extremely high level, and Boozer and Millsap to man the inside. Those guys are 6'8". If Drew and Pau are the twin towers, the Jazz have the twin Basements.
The Jazz are a very good offensive team, but a mediocre defensive team, even when healthy. They win games by scoring points efficiently. And yet, in three losses to L.A. this season, they've scored 77, 81 (at home), and 92. Their victory saw them drop 102. Their season average? 104. Deron Williams and browbeaten refs will combine for at least one victory, but its hard to see more than one. Lakers in 5.