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Lakers vs. Jazz Preview: Time for a bubble bounce-back

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After a 1-1 start to play in the NBA bubble, the Jazz may be just what the Lakers ordered.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Utah Jazz Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have gotten off to a relatively promising start in the NBA bubble so far, although you wouldn’t know it if you checked to see why Danny Green’s name was trending after their Saturday night loss to the Toronto Raptors.

That the Lakers shot their two worst field-goal percentages of the year and managed to play good enough defense to get a win over their biggest threat in the West (the Clippers) and stay close with the Toronto Raptors are signs that this team is playing well on defense. If they’re missing shots as a result of the toll that’s taking on their legs after four months off, well, that may just be something they have to deal with as they try to ramp back up for the playoffs.

After a rare mandatory shootaround on Monday — that Frank Vogel said the team decided to have before the Raptors game because they had a day off the next day and a late game tonight, not as a result of their performance against Toronto — the Lakers’ head coach was clearly feeling good about where his team is at, even if he had jokes when asked what the Lakers need to improve over their remaining six seeding round games.

“Other than everything?” Vogel said with a laugh. “Coaches always want to clean up everything.”

Still, he didn’t sound overly concerned with the Lakers’ play so far.

“I think we’re doing some really good things defensively,” Vogel said. “The top thing we want to work on is our screening and our spacing offensively, and we’ve got to continue to be patient with our shooters. I thought we played a really good offensive game the other day with the exception of finishing plays. We missed layups at the rim and we missed open threes on the backside, which were costly. The spacing and the screening improvements hopefully will cut down on some of our turnovers as well.”

The Jazz may provide just what the Lakers need in order to tighten things up. Utah has gotten off to a similarly mixed start to play in the bubble, matching the Lakers’ 1-1 record in Orlando so far. But the Lakers are 2-0 against Jazz this season, winning the first matchup by 9 points in Staples Center before destroying the Jazz by 25 points in Utah. They seem to match up well with this Jazz core, a group that was only weakened by the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic, even if they’ve gotten some solid scoring from former Laker Jordan Clarkson.

If the Lakers can make it a 3-0 season sweep against the Jazz on Monday night, they’ll also clinch the top seed in the Western Conference for the first time in a decade, but Vogel said that whether the Lakers lock up the top seed or not over their remaining seeding games, it won’t alter their approach to the seeding round.

“My mindset is not going to change whether we clinch or not. It really isn’t. We have to get better every time we’re on the floor. We’re going to be smart with minutes to keep guys fresh and not getting overworked,” Vogel said. “I don’t anticipate that changing based on anything that happens in the standings.”

The Lakers need their shooters to get back in rhythm obviously, and also need to continue slowly getting back in condition to mitigate injury risk. It’s a balance, but the team is hopeful about their play so far, and guard Alex Caruso just wants to continue “chipping away at the rust” against Utah.

“We’re doing a lot of positive things. Defensively I think we’ve had great containment. I think maybe just at times we’re maybe a little overzealous on help, or not spaced quite as far as we should be,” Caruso said. “We’re playing great extra-pass basketball, almost to a fault. So I think it’s just getting back into game rhythm. I think we’re doing a lot of positive things. Even with the loss to Toronto, we had so much going for us that we did well, it was just a couple of situations or a couple of shots falling differently, it’s a different game.”

Vogel has specifically said already that he thinks Green — who has shot 2-13 in the bubble so far — will come around, and he thinks the same about the rest of his team.

“I think we’re gonna be fine,” Vogel said. “I’ve always been focused on how we play more than the result. If we play the right way and create quality shots each time down the floor, our shooters will make enough shots for us to win a lot of games. We’ve seen that throughout the year, and that should be the case down the stretch.”

That’s why the Lakers have won 50 of their 65 games so far, and as long as their shooters regress to the mean, they should win at least a few more of their remaining contests before the playoffs. They’ll get their next chance when they tip off against the Jazz tonight at 6:00 p.m. PT. The game will be televised locally on Spectrum SportsNet, and nationally on ESPN.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers’ injury report is exactly the same as it was for their first two games in the bubble, with LeBron James (sore right groin), Kyle Kuzma (right ankle sprain) and Anthony Davis (sore right eye) all probable to play.
  • And now, a very important video clip to lighten the mood:
  • On a more serious note, some quick thoughts on Green’s shooting so far

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.