One would think that this is a game that even a depleted Lakers team would be able to defeat. After all, the Lakers finally got back one of the point guards -- and arguably the best of the lot -- so necessary for running Mike D'Antoni's system back in Jordan Farmar and the dirty little secret of the team this season is that they're better with Pau Gasol not on the floor because of his stone feet on defense and unwillingness to roll hard to the rim on the other end. Several of the pieces that have ignited the Lakers' early success this season in Nick Young, Xavier Henry, and Jordan Hill all had decent games, so why the result?
The flip side to this is that the Lakers also aren't that talented. They have been running on pluckiness and superior execution to win against most teams and while they put up a 57.1 TS% as a team, they also couldn't stop what one has to accept as a deeper Utah squad. Gordon Hayward tormented the Lakers' wing defenders all night with a 24 point, five rebound, and nine assist performance, and the future restricted free agent got some critical buckets for the Jazz late by capitalizing on some Laker turnovers. With Hayward and the aforementioned Burke, who has to be considered one of the leaders for the Rookie of the Year race, as playmakers, Derrick Favors was also able to achieve far greater success in the pick-and-roll, including the final putback to give the Jazz their final bucket of the night.
Moreover, while Chris Kaman is a much better frontcourt defender than Pau, it didn't necessarily mean that the Lakers' interior defense was especially good either. Shawne Williams failed to assert much of an interior defense or hit threes to claim any measure of overall effectiveness and that he and Kaman were the starters continues to be somewhat of a quizzical decision by Mike D'Antoni. Hill had an excellent 16 point, nine rebound, and two assist night on a 84.0 TS%, including two free throws late to tie the game before Favors' go-ahead bucket, and Ryan Kelly continues to surprise as a fairly competent defender despite initial impressions to the contrary in his D-League play. With Williams' possible replacements better than him on both ends and in the case of Kelly, capable of duplicating his floor spacing ability, his minutes aren't especially helping the team.
All of this notwithstanding, the Lakers kept the game close for most of the contest and were never especially out of reach. Nick Young scored nineteen points before fouling out and Kaman put up 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks, mostly on hard rolls to the rim working off Farmar in a decent stretch near the end of the first half. The Lakers chipped the halftime deficit to two after the third quarter, but found themselves down seven with 4:50 remaining. Farmar and Hill brought the Lakers back into the game, especially the latter with 13 fourth quarter points. With the game tied with 103 apiece, however, the Lakers couldn't contain Hayward's penetration even with their best defensive frontcourt in Sacre and Hill present and that was that.
This is the reality of how a team with no stars healthy and merely a collection of very good role players is going to perform and it came across tonight. The Lakers do have an easier stretch of their schedule at home incoming with a few nominally easier teams and their role players should perform better under their own roof, but these are the limitations the Lakers will have to operate under this season, even when things appear to be running as well as reasonably possible on the road.
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