Five things to watch in Lakers-Jazz matchup
1. How will the Lakers respond to rest - Some of the Lakers joked after their 98-91 victory Tuesday over Chicago how their Thanksgiving dinner is going to slow them down Friday in Utah. I can't forsee any Laker player ballooning that much weight, no matter how times they refilled their plate with turkey and stuffing. But the whole rest issue is always something to consider with any team.
The Lakers (13-2) took the day off Wednesday and their light practice Thanksgiving morning consisted of the "Turkey Trots," an annual Phil Jackson tradition that features the team's backcourt match up in a scrimmage against the frontline. Add in the flight Thursday night and the only other practice the team had before the game against the Jazz (11-5) involved Friday's morning shootaround.
The Lakers have experienced a mixed bag thus far after off days. They had an underwhelming performance against Minnesota. They experienced their first loss of the season to Denver. But they responded to another off day with a dominating win over Golden www.googState. Some of the results can point to the opponent more than the Lakers' energy level, but the latter part certainly played a factor in all three contests. This approach will prove to be a solid down investment for later on in the season when fatigue hits in, but it's hard to gauge how this strategy will turn out in early-season contests.
"We're trying to get them established without it going too far," Jackson said, "yet not run our legs off our veterans."
2. How will the Lakers deal with the Jazz animosity?As Utah guard Deron Williams said before the season, "I hate the Lakers." Utah hates them because the Lakers have won the last four regular-season series. They hate them because they eliminated Utah in the past three postseasons, including the Western Conference semifinals (2008, 2010) and first round (2009). And they hate them because Utah's relentless and grinding work ethic usually fall short against the Lakers' superior talent.
So even if the Lakers have had their way with Utah, it also requires more energy and effort in making that possible. The Lakers expect the team to play physical with them and the typically contentious atmosphere at Energy Solutions Arena.
3. Don't get too comfortable with Utah. It might come back. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson recently shared a theory on how the Jazz recently managed to stage four consecutive second-half comebacks.
""When Utah goes on the road, they play flip-flop of every other team," Jackson said. "They play offense on the far end of their court, and when they come back in the second half, they're playing offense in front of their bench, and they generate a lot of points in front of their bench because of that. For whatever reason, teams a lot of times play better when the coach is yelling at the guys to make the right moves and the right passes and whatever. They're more comfortable... It's been in front of their bench that they've been able to do it, but I think they're the only team in the NBA that does that."
This concept doesn't exactly apply in this game since Utah will play at home. But it speaks to their overall tendency in refusing to give up.
4. The Lakers need to take advantage of Utah's poor shooting percentage. Kobe Bryant made a recent comment that the team worries more about how a team's shooting percentage looks than the actual points they produce. The logic points to the fact that it becomes easier to defend a team that requires more shots than teams that endlessly make baskets. Utah illustrates that perfectly as their 13th-ranked field-goal percentage and 20th ranked three-point field goal percentage contributes more to the team's 13th overall mark in points per game and than the fifth-ranked mark it has in assists. That makes it important the Lakers take advantage of their rebounding superiority, with the Lakers leading the league in boards and the Jazz currently ranked at 23rd. It also means the Lakers need to be mindful of Williams, whose 21.3 points per game has come on 43.5% shooting. Considering his recent shooting performance against New Orleans, it'd be wise to mark him as a sharp shooter and then force him back into his slump.
5. This should be a good test for the Lakers bench. This isn't just because it will test its ability to secure a lead. This isn't just because it will test their resilience in an unfriendly road environment. The Salt Lake Tribune's Brian T. Smith recently explained how the Jazz's second unit has inspired its starting lineup. It features a lineup that's sometimes small, sometimes large, sometimes fast and sometimes slow with two point guards in Earl Watson and Ronnie Price and two centers in Francisco Elson and Kyrylo Fesenko. With different combinations working around small forward C.J. Miles, the Jazz orchestrated significant runs in their win over New Orleans.
The Jazz has credited its bench the same way the Lakers have: they believe the sum of their parts have sparked energy and fed the team's hunger level. The Lakers saw that on full display in their recent win against Chicago as the likes of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown helped offset poor performances from Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher. It's not a stretch to believe this matchup will prove a big role in the outcome.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, drives on Utah guard Wesley Matthews in the first quarter during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday. Credit: Harry How/Getty Images