Lakers must quickly shift focus to Utah
The Lakers ended their first-round series Friday against Oklahoma City in exhausting fashion, but they somehow must find a way quickly to turn it around Sunday when they host the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
"It's pretty hard because you got to rest your body," Lakers forward Ron Artest said. "It's a fine line. You definitely have to recover from the game the other night. But we have an early game tomorrow so you want to recover and then also get some work in."
After going through a competitive six-game series with the Thunder, the Lakers are treated to what appears to be an easier opponent. The Lakers are 3-1 against the Jazz this season and defeated Utah both in the Western Conference semifinals (2008) and first round (2009). Yet, they somehow have to find a way to keep the same intensity, though the Lakers often present that quality only when required.
"We need to stay focused at all times and not take extra confidence from our success in the past," Gasol said. "I think we're ready. I think the series against Oklahoma really put us in a place mentally where we're in good shape."
Additionally, the Jazz enter the series with significant injuries. Utah has been without center Mehmet Okur, who ruptured a season-ending left Achilles' tendon in Game 1 against Denver. The Jazz played without Andrew Kirilenko, who missed the entire Denver series because of a strained left calf and is currently listed as doubtful for Game 1 against the Lakers.
But the Lakers are far from fully healthy. Lakers center Andrew Bynum is listed as questionable for Game 1 against Utah because of a small tear in the anterior horn of cartilage in his right knee, an injury the team said he unknowingly played through since the original tear was last June. But it worsened when he suffered a hyper-extended knee sometime in the first half Friday in Game 6 against the Thunder.
"There's some issues," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. "He's hoping to play if he's asymptomatic tomorrow."
As it has been all season, Bynum isn't the only player the Lakers are monitoring. Lakers forward Lamar Odom wore a brace on his right knee in Game 6 against the Thunder. Artest has a bruised left shoulder, an injury that keeps Artest puzzled, or at least, secretive about the origin. Nonetheless, Artest said he practiced Saturday without his sleeve, something he wore in Game 6. And then, of course, there is Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who has been continually nursing finger, knee and ankle injuries for most of the season, but says, "I'm good."
Even if there are uncertanties beyond injures, the team remained non-committal on whether Bryant or Artest would defend Utah guard Deron Williams.
There's one thing that makes the quick turnaround an easier task. That is, of course, the Lakers' strong familiarity with the Jazz.
"We don't have to go through a whole new menu," Bryant said. "In Oklahoma, we had to start from scratch a little. With Utah, you don't have to do that."
But in a series Gasol thinks won't present any "secrets," Jackson and Artest vividly outlined what ultimately will determine whether the Lakers advance past Utah, which has led the league this postseason in scoring (110.5 points per game) and field-goal percentage (50.7%).
"There's a general rule of thumb that the more a team knows the other team's offense, the more chance you'll have of executing if you execute right," Jackson said. "We know their offense. They know our offense. They know our personnel. We know their personnel. Still, it's going to be the team that executes that will be the winner in this game."
"We got to hustle and not take anybody for granted," Artest said. "That's the main thing, not anybody for granted and respect everybody."
-- Mark Medina