Five things to watch in Lakers-Jazz game
Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers (7-4) visit the Utah Jazz (6-3) on Wednesday evening at EnergySolutions Arena.
1. Can the Lakers win on the road? Forget the Lakers' double-digit drubbing two weeks ago against Utah. The team has improved since then. Also forget about the Lakers' winning three of their past four games. The Lakers still haven't picked up a road win, and doing so in a contentious environment will prove challenging. There are lots of areas in which the Lakers have struggled in road games compared to their performance at home, where they're 7-1. Consider the home-road disparity in field-goal percentage (48%, 42.7%), three-point field-goal percentage (27.8%, 10%) and assists (23.6, 18.3).
Surely, some of these statistics point to mere circumstances. The Lakers' dud against Sacramento was in the second game of their season, when they really looked lost. Another road loss came at Denver when Kobe Bryant shot six of 28 from the field.
2. Will Kobe Bryant provide an encore? After his 48-point performance against Phoenix, Bryant offered a hint that he's hardly going to take it easy against Utah. He called out nemesis Raja Bell by name, and the Jazz believes Bryant will come out gunning. Bryant's greatness was a sight to see, but even Lakers Coach Mike Brown acknowledged he hopes to eventually scale back Bryant's minutes to around 33 or 34. But in the past three games, Bryant has logged 41, 38 and 39.
This concern has nothing to do with Bryant's abilities. It has everything to do with managing him for the long haul. Better to have performances like the one against Phoenix in the playoffs rather than in mid-January. The impetus for that involves the Lakers' surrounding Bryant with the proper supporting cast.
3. Lakers will have a depleted frontcourt again. The Lakers will be without Josh McRoberts (sprained big toe in left foot), Troy Murphy (gastroenteritis) and Jason Kapono (personal reasons involving the recent birth of his twin girls). That means Luke Walton and Metta World Peace are likely to see more time at power forward. Surprisingly, both played well against Phoenix. Walton collected six points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal in 26 minutes, and World Peace provided seven rebounds. If they can hold down the fort for another night, that'd be a big plus.
4. Lakers will likely build on their defense. In the last five games, the Lakers have ranked No. 1 in rebounding (49.8) and ninth in points allowed (92.2). That included a stretch in the last six minutes against Phoenix where the Lakers held the Suns to zero field goals and one free throw. The Lakers still have issues with defending the perimeter. And don't even get started on transition defense. But they're definitely showing signs of becoming a defense-oriented team.
5. Pau Gasol can have a big night against Al Jefferson. Gasol has walked a fine line since Andrew Bynum's return seven games ago. He's accepted his apparent fall in the pecking order by spacing well, nailing open mid-range jumpers, crashing the boards and improving on defensive rotations. But the aggressiveness sometimes has been lacking. Case in point: Gasol hardly looked effective on rotations in close outs and weak-side help in the first half, and then rebounded well in the second. Gasol limited Al Jefferson the last time out to two-of-17 shooting, and has a prime opportunity to take advantage of that while Andrew Bynum continues to learn to play out of double teams.
-- Mark Medina
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