The Los Angeles Lakers face the Utah Jazz tonight at Staples Center, with the opportunity to keep the momentum going. The team will be looking for their 5th straight win. With the LA Clippers going through a prolonged downturn, the Lakers have opened up a decent size 2.5 game lead in the Pacific Division, and a win tonight would put them just a game back of 2nd place in the Western Conference. All told, the team is in far better position than we could have reasonably expected based on the previous roster and start to the season.
Of course, even if things weren't quite so rosy, we'd still have plenty of reason for excitement because the previous roster is not the current roster. Instead, Ramon Sessions and his new friends will continue tonight to bring in the era of the new, and the new is always exciting. The new is not always successful, but based on opening night returns, we have every reason to be hopeful that it will be. If the Lakers can add this "new" success to the success that had been building with the old team, the old ways, they might just have something to say about who gets the glory at season's end.
Tonight's opponent should offer little resistance in bringing all that hope to reality. The Utah Jazz are a .500 team, which is not worthy of dismissal, but they are a .500 team much in the same way the Lakers are a division leading one. The Lakers are bad on the road, and insanely dominant at home. The Jazz are horrid on the road, and very good at home. If we were talking about a road contest, that might be cause for alarm, but the combined records for the two teams in the atmospheres in which they will be playing is 35-7 in favor of the home squad.
So we can be forgiven for having a high level of confidence that the Lakers will find a way to win this contest. Whether it is the rare occasion in which the Lakers come out focused and put the game away early, or a more likely combination of strong play at some points and lazy play at others that will see us sweating in the 4th quarter, the fact remains that the Lakers have been better than any other team in the league at home, and the Jazz are one of the worst road teams in the league. It's hard to imagine a result which will leave a sour taste in our mouths.
Turning to the play at hand, the Jazz do sport a couple of big men worthy of your attention in Paul Milsapp and Al Jefferson. Neither matches up with our counterparts, Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum, all that well, but they are talented. Unfortunately, the Lakers also have Kobe Bryant and the Jazz, well after those two bigs, nobody else on their team is all that special. The only thing faster than guard Devin Harris is the speed with which he fell off a cliff after being traded by Dallas a couple seasons ago, and the rest of the Jazz roster isn't even worth mentioning.
Meanwhile, the Lakers get to continue working their new teammates into the fold. Expect Ramon Sessions to continue to come off the bench for now (and hopefully for the season, per my last post), but I expect he'll play more than the 19 minutes he saw the court on Friday. As for Jordan Hill, don't be surprised if it takes him a little longer to crack the lineup for meaningful minutes. First off, Hill isn't as good as Sessions is in general. Second, the Lakers don't need his depth in the same way, because they have two big men off the bench who have been playing all season. Jordan Hill may very well be the third best big man on our team behind the All-Stars, but it'll take a while before that starts manifesting itself. For the time being, I expect the majority of the minutes to continue going to Troy Murphy unless coach Brown feels McRoberts is due some burn.
So, keep things going strong, Lakers. Tonight is not the night for stubbed toes. Keep the good times rolling and the pain of losing legend and icon Derek Fisher will feel more and more distant.