The Utah Jazz swept the Los Angeles Lakers in last year’s regular season series and finished with over a dozen more wins than them last season. After keeping nearly their entire roster together in the offseason, one would assume Utah are favorites going into Friday night’s game, right?
Wrong. Through 18 games, the Jazz have struggled to rediscover their form from last season and are 8-10, which is the third-worst record in the Western Conference currently. They’ve lost four of their last five games.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, winning eight of their last 10 games. They’re tied with the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best winning percentage (80 percent) over the last 10 games.
Despite this, the Lakers should go into this game as if they were in the same position they were in last year, going up against a young and talented Jazz team.
The Jazz haven’t been able to find their rhythm yet, but one would think a team with as much continuity as they have will get it together sooner rather than later. A team like the Lakers, who have stumbled into a winning record this season, are the teams they have the best shot at upsetting.
The battle with Utah will start in the frontcourt for the Lakers on Friday. The Jazz have a pair of talented and towering big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, who can go off for double-double games on any given night.
Unlike when they played each other last season, the Lakers have some size to counter the Jazz’s bruising big men with JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler, but it’s worth questioning whether or not those two will be enough.
The Lakers will also have to keep a close eye on Ricky Rubio. There are very few bonafide “Laker Killers” left in the league, but Rubio meets the criteria. In three games against the Lakers last season, Rubio averaged 20.3 points on 57 percent shooting from the field to go along with 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
Luckily, the Lakers will have Lonzo Ball, who only played in just one game against the Jazz last season. Ball is coming off his best game of the season and will look to build on his breakout performance on Wednesday.
Donovan Mitchell can also be a headache for the Lakers, but he hasn’t been as consistent as he was least season for Utah. As long as Brandon Ingram and JaVale McGee disrupt his shots with their length, it should be another relatively quiet night for the 22-year-old.
The Lakers have the talent to come away with another win, but so do the Jazz. Expect this one to come down to the wire.
The Lakers will take on the Jazz at 7:30 p.m. PST on Spectrum SportsNet and NBA TV. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.