Lakers - Jazz Preview: Once More Into The Breach

Just 24 hours after refusing to allow the Dallas Mavericks an opportunity to vent frustration after a tough night, the Los Angeles Lakers will need to quickly re-dedicate their minds to what should normally be the only thing they need to think about on the job: basketball.  One never knows what will be the chink in the armor of the Lakers' laser like focus, and its possible last night's pseudo-melee could cause the team to let off the gas for the first time in six weeks.  It's obviously important that they don't do so for a variety of reasons, the most surprising of which being that the Lakers suddenly find themselves with something truly tangible to play for as the last embers of the regular season begin to die.  Thanks to San Antonio's five game losing streak, there is actually a real possibility of the Lakers catching the Spurs and obtaining an advantage they've not had in the Kobe Bryant/Pau Gasol era, the NBA's best record in the regular season, and guaranteed home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

With the stakes decently high, and the distractions of last night's game numerous, a game in Utah would appear to be quite the challenge.  But the Lakers find themselves relatlively blessed, because instead of the tough, snarling, dominant home team that we've all come to expect in the Utah Jazz, the Lakers will insted be facing a team in shambles.  To describe this season as a stomach punch to the fans of Utah basketball would be a massive understatement.  Instead, the basketball gods have approached a wobbly Jazz franchise and administed a fatality, Mortal-Kombat style, grabbing the franchise by the head, and detaching it from the body, bringing the spinal cord with it along the way.

There is every possibility that the trade sending Deron Williams to New Jersey for what was originally the "Melo" package may end up a wise move in the future.  The Jazz have lots of good draft picks and a potential building block in big man Derrick Favors.  However, coupled with the departure of head coach Jerry Sloan, the trade must be seen, in the short term, as nothing less than the Jazz shooting themselves in the foot, then picking the gun up again and aiming for the heart (in truth, the heart in this analogy came first, but you get the idea).  The Jazz were eight games above .500, and firmly entrenched in the fight for the 6th or 7th playoff spot in the Western Conference when Sloan dropped his stunning bomb.  Since then, they've gone 5-16 (5-13 since the subsequent trade) and dropped to the middle of the Western Conference lottery.  They enter tonight's contest on a six game losing streak, with the last loss coming against the Washington Wizards ... in Utah.  Hey, at least they took that game to overtime, right?

And if that's not enough, nearly half the roster is questionable or definitively out for tonight's contest.  And we're not talking 12th men, either.  Memet Okur only played 13 games this season and is done for the year, and joining him on the sidelines will be Ronnie Price and Andrei Kirilenko, with Devin Harris and Raja Bell questionable as well.  Thankfully, it appears as though Kyrolo Fesenko will tough out his headache and give it a go.  Otherwise this might really have gotten out of hand.

All maladies aside, the real issue is that the Jazz had an identity for over 20 years, and that identity is gone.  They've had a dominant star for the last five years, and that star is gone.  Both of the components responsible for making the Jazz tick have been removed, and they are left with nothing but a bunch of disconnected watch parts, a team that is lucky if they're right twice a day.

And that is pretty much all that matters about tonight's contest.  I could talk about the matchups, talk about the Jazz strengths (drawing fouls) and weaknesses (everything else), but even reviewing the stats for this team is a fairly fruitless exercise.  This is not the same team the Lakers have faced the past three hundred years in the playoffs, and even if they were, the Lakers would still be able to wipe the floor with them.  Any combination of focus, defensive intensity, or offensive execution should be enough to get the job done.  There is but one way for the Lakers to lose tonight's contest, the re-emergence of the "team" which disappeared during the All-Star break.  If the Lakers don't show up, or come in believing the game is already won, they might find themselves on the end of an embarrassing loss.  All other paths lead to victory.

 

Lakers

Jazz

RECORD

54-20 (2)

36-39 (18)

NET POINTS PER GAME

6.9 (3)

-1.7 (20)

PACE

90.6 (21)

91.3 (18)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.9 (2)

108.3 (11)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

0.122 (2)

0.135 (20)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.229 (12)

0.246 (4)

Free-Throw %

78.2 (6)

77.4 (9)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.219 (16)

0.191 (23)

3PT% (Off.)

35.5 (15)

34.4 (24)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.4 (10)

49.8 (14)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.8 (11)

54.4 (13)

Off Rebounding Rate

0.297 (3)

0.270 (12)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.4 (6)

110.2 (24)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

0.129 (19)

0.139 (8)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.178 (1)

0.277 (30)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.248 (26)

0.241 (23)

3PT% (Def.)

33.4 (2)

37.9 (29)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.8 (5)

50.5 (20)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.5 (2)

55.6 (25)

Def Rebounding Rate

0.722 (23)

0.715 (27)

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