Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
The Lakers hope to launch into a winning streak against the Utah Jazz
That wasn't so hard, was it?
The Los Angeles Lakers finally got their first win in game 4 Sunday night, defeating the Pistons 108-79. With the fanbase slamming on the panic button like an overactive child on a Whack-a-Mole, the Lakers found an opponent in even more dire straits than they were. Detroit feebly fell in STAPLES Center, turning the ball over 16 times and failing to shoot more than 36% against a Lakers team that had allowed nearly 50% FG throughout the first three games of the season.
In some ways, this was a great win for the Lakers. The team was able to run their offense at their leisure against an opposition that wouldn't disrupt passing lanes and discombobulate a work-in-progress Lake Show. The win was almost like a glorified scrimmage (save for a moderately competitive fourth quarter), with the Lakers using a real life game to work new parts into new schemes. The defense was especially active against the Pistons, and whether it was the inferior competition or just a shot of energy after three lackluster games, L.A. was able to be physically dominant.
But in other ways, this could have just been a decent win over a terrible team. The Lakers still had 15 turnovers themselves playing a young Detroit squad whose first unit looked like they could have lost the ball 30 times. The bench still remained a concern, with Antawn Jamison (only 6 points in 19 minutes) and Devin Ebanks (0-6 FG, 2 points in 16 minutes) still getting warmed up for the season and Jodie Meeks unable to crack the rotation.
I bring this up because in Salt Lake City against a much more accomplished Jazz team, this won't be easy.
At 1-3 and with three straight losses in the books, the Jazz aren't exactly rolling into this game like the '96 Bulls. But Utah is a young, physical team who won't be bullied around the court like the quite frankly putrid Detroit team. The Jazz have supplemented their rebuilding movement, which revolves around Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors, with new imports Randy Foye and Mo Williams.
The Lakers are an even 4-4 during the regular season in Salt Lake City since Pau Gasol was acquired in 2008, though 4-3 during the playoffs. Utah's fabled home court advantage is anything but a fairy tale, posting more than nine home losses only once in the past five seasons. Whether it's the proximity of the fans to the court, the acoustics of the arena or its elevation above sea level, the Jazz have an undeniable edge against the field. The Lakers, especially this Kobe/Pau incarnation, seem to be somewhat less susceptible than the rest of the league, but regardless, this is a dangerous stylistic match-up for the Lakers.
With Williams, Foye and Hayward on the perimeter, the Jazz have a trio of sweet-shooting and slick-passing combo guards that can also take the ball off the dribble and blow past a slow set of L.A. wing defenders. Hayward especially seems to be the early breakout youngster for the Jazz, scoring 11, 14, 15 and 19 in the first four games of the season. Moving inside, only the Spurs have shot better than 50% against Utah on two-pointers, with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Favors and Kanter (when he can stay on the floor - he's averaging 4 fouls a game) proving a solid paint presence. Unlike an anemic Pistons squad with a very scattered team identity, Ty Corbin's boys know what they want to execute, which starts with Jefferson inside, going out to the aforementioned wing corps. They are quick, athletic and active, three adjectives which should terrify any Lakers fan.
Utah's record is a bit deceiving: they lost at New Orleans on a last second shot by Greivis Vasquez after holding the Hornets to 88 points, lost at San Antonio to a Spurs team that might be the class of the NBA and lost against a very good Grizzlies team in Memphis in which Zach Randolph (16 points, 18 rebounds) and Marc Gasol (22/8/8) had monster nights. They have the 12th rated offense in regards to points per 100 possessions, and are defending well enough to stay in games.
After a one game reprieve against a sophomoric opponent, the Lakers are back to a difficult challenge. With upcoming games against Golden State and Sacramento, a win for L.A. here could help vault them into a four-game winning streak, halting the quarters into the Whack-A-Mole machine. Tonight should be a good test to see if the Lake Show we all saw on Sunday was more an indication of team growth, or the competition.
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