Lakers - Jazz Preview: Falling is not the problem

The Los Angeles Lakers enter tonight's game against the Utah Jazz only slightly put off by Sunday's defeat at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.  There appears to be no major casualties, as Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol both seem to be OK.  Despite the loss, L.A. remains the league's hottest team over the season's final half third, having won 17 of 19 games.  Those 17 wins come courtesy of two very long and very nice win streaks, split almost in half by a loss to the Miami Heat.  Both win streaks involved tough games home and away and both streaks came against above average competition, but was one win streak more impressive than the other?

Let's dig a little deeper.  The Lakers began the first win streak in need of some momentum.  The team entered the All-Star break losers of three straight games, including the ultimate embarrassment of losing to the worst team in the league.  They rattled off eight straight victories as they traversed the most challenging portion of their schedule;  the eight game streak included five opponents headed to the playoffs, and four of those five contests were played on the road (in Portland, OKC, San Antonio, and Atlanta).  Over the streak, the Lakers average margin of victory was just shy of 12 points per game.  It was an awesome display the likes of which we weren't quite sure the defending champs were capable of anymore.  Then, they had a rough outing in Miami, falling to the Heat by six, which brings us to the next streak.  Nine games, with five playoff opponents, and an average margin of victory just north of 10 points per game.  However, whereas most of the first streak took place away from Staples, the vast majority of the nine game win streak came at home.  Only the road victory against Dallas stands out as a truly impressive result.

Based on that quick hitting analysis, I'm sure you've all identified which of the two streaks was more important and impressive, right?  If you think I'm talking about the first streak, then I've played you like a fiddle.  The correct answer is streak #2, and the reason why has everything to do with why tonight's game is important.

These two post-ASG win streaks are hardly the first two streaks the Lakers have put together all year.  In fact, the Lakers have the most impressive collection of long win streaks in the league, by far.  Aside from the recent eight and nine game spells, they have another eight game win streak (the start of the season), a seven game streak, and two five game streaks.  By comparison, the league leading San Antonio Spurs only have three streaks over five games (though they have two double digit win streaks that are more impressive than anything L.A. has done).  The Miami Heat, similar to the Lakers in their ability to play hot and cold, only have four 5+ game win streaks.  All told, the Lakers have 42 wins, over 75% of their season total, in those six win streaks.  What's my point?  When the Lakers get on the right path, they've had very little trouble at putting one foot in front of the other and continuing their success.  What they have struggled with is how to fix things quickly when something does get out of whack.

Here is what the Lakers have "accomplished" after their big win streaks: a two game losing streak, a four game losing streak, a 3 game losing streak, two losses in three games (and four losses in seven games) and ... one loss before another big win streak.  That is why the nine game streak which just recently came to an end is the most impressive the Lakers have had all season.  Not because it's the longest.  Not because of how dominant they looked in winning.  Not because of the quality of their opponents.  That streak was impressive because they didn't treat the preceding loss as an opportunity for a break, didn't sit back and say to themselves "That's good enough for now", didn't become complacent.  They won a bunch of games in a row, and then lost one game, and then got right back to winning again.

Therein lies the importance of tonight's game.  Yes, there are still things for the Lakers to play for, and yes a victory tonight will continue to keep the pressure on San Antonio and Chicago in the race for playoff positioning and home court advantage, but the most important aspect of tonight's contest will be how the Lakers respond to a poor showing in their previous game.  Having a bad game every now and then is perfectly acceptable.  In fact, it is expected.  The occasional bad game is what makes a long win streak so impressive, what makes teams like the '96 Bulls so amazing.  What isn't acceptable is allowing one bad game to become three or four, using a long win streak as a mitigating circumstance for complacency and laziness.  That is what the Lakers have been guilty of all season long.  That is what the Lakers have been unable to avoid ... until they were able to tack on nine straight wins right after an impressive eight game win streak came to an end.

Tonight's opponent is the Utah Jazz.  There will be no talk about them here.  The Lakers played this team four days ago, and every word written about them remains true today.  Check that preview, or read the stats below, if you want to know what they bring to the table (not much, at this point) and how they go about their business.  After you are done, make yourself an appointment with the doctor to figure out why you are suffering from short term memory loss. 

Statistic

Lakers

Jazz

RECORD

55-21 (3)

36-41 (18)

NET POINTS PER GAME

6.7 (3)

-1.9 (20)

PACE

90.6 (21)

91.2 (18)

OFFENSIVE RATING

111.6 (3)

108.2 (11)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

0.122 (2)

0.135 (20)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.229 (12)

0.244 (5)

Free-Throw %

78.0 (7)

77.4 (9)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.219 (16)

0.190 (24)

3PT% (Off.)

35.4 (16)

34.4 (21)

Effective FG% (Off.)

50.4 (10)

49.7 (15)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.7 (11)

54.3 (13)

Off Rebounding Rate

0.295 (4)

0.270 (12)

DEFENSIVE RATING

104.2 (6)

110.3 (24)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

0.129 (19)

0.138 (10)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.178 (1)

0.276 (30)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.246 (26)

0.240 (23)

3PT% (Def.)

33.4 (2)

37.9 (29)

Effective FG% (Def.)

47.8 (5)

50.6 (20)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.4 (2)

55.7 (25)

Def Rebounding Rate

0.722 (23)

0.717 (26)

 
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