Lakers/Jazz Series Preview
You wanna talk some jive?
by Myles Brown
Jerry Sloan usually isn’t the type to play mind games. He’d much rather grab a couple of burgers and hit the cemetery. So perhaps the bleak assessment of his squads post season hopes was just that. After all, the Utah Jazz were a pre season favorite to challenge the Lakers for Conference supremacy, but certainly not in the first round. Hampered by injuries and hounded by an inexplicable inability to win on the road, they’ve been all but eliminated by the pundits before the series has even begun.
Of course that’s why we play the actual games. Instead of any zen mysticism or subliminal messages, Sloan seems much more the type to profess that if team pride needs to be challenged at this point in the season, then perhaps said team shouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Instead of shifting the pressure to Los Angeles, it seems much more plausible for the Jazz to place the onus on themselves to produce in what may be their last season together, given their aging roster and tenuous contract situations. At this point in the season, all any team has left is their pride and four games.
So I expect a grueling and physical series. The Lakers have been consistently accused of lacking focus-particularly on the defensive end-and of soft play. If they’re serious about a return to the Finals, perhaps this is the best opening round opponent for them. Things have changed since last April, but not so much that L.A. would forget almost being pushed to seven games by this same team. The Laker defense will be tested by a bevy of pick n’ rolls and Utah’s stalwart sharpshooters. There will be fouls-lots of them-and the Laker bigs will be put under pressure, specifically Pau Gasol’s heart and Andrew Bynum’s knee. And there’s always the question of which Lamar Odom will show up. Operating under any presuppositions or with any complacency will either drag this series on longer than L.A.would like, or send them home sooner than anyone anticipated.
For 10 months the Los Angeles Lakers have told anyone who’d listen how much they’d love another shot at the title. Now we’ll see just how much they mean it.
Point Guard: Acknowledgement
“I’m sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.”
Derek Fisher v. Deron Williams: Advantage Utah
Deron Williams is well aware of how much responsibility rests on his shoulders in this series, or any other for that matter. While it would be shortsighted to place the blame at his feet should they fail, it is practically impossible to imagine any scenario in which the Jazz succeed without an impressive outing from their point guard. He’s a threat to stop n’ pop out of a pick n’ roll, or barrel his way to the basket and absorb contact with his stocky frame. Williams is far too much for Fisher to handle alone, but can’t be doubled without risking the repercussions given his razor sharp court vision. Expect to see a revolving door of defenders attempting to deny Deron entry into the paint, namely Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and even Kobe Bryant. If Williams aggression is enough to draw a defensive assignment from Bryant, consider it a positive for Utah, as they look to sap Kobe’s offensive energy in any way possible.
Derek Fisher’s playoff reputation precedes him, but this season he has also been prone to more mistakes such as rushed shot attempts and missed defensive assignments. However, he is still a steadying influence and though he knows he’s outmatched against Williams, if he can minimize his mistakes and keep the defense honest from the perimeter, then he’s done all he can.
Shooting Guard: Resolution
“That’s a hell of a damn grave. I wish it were mine.”
Kobe Bryant v. Ronnie Brewer & the prayers of ten million Mormons: Advantage L.A.
Kobe Bryant could only be held in more contempt in the state of Utah if he were applying for a civil union with Michael Jordan. Bryant has tormented the Jazz for the past several seasons as they hopelessly scramble to find anyone even remotely capable of containing him. Brewer may get the starting nod, but just as Fisher will need help with Williams, expect the length of Andrei Kirelenko, the quickness of C.J. Miles and even the bruising physicality of Matt Harpring to take turns attempting to tame the Mamba.
And though Utah is a notoriously physical team, it may be in their best interest to keep Kobe off the foul line as much as possible. He’s made a living at the line against this team and such a preponderance of free throws for an exceptional shooter will only compensate for an off night from the field, or worse yet, give him a rhythm.
Ronnie Brewer, may the force, Joseph Smith and the Ghost of Larry Miller be with you.
Trevor Ariza v. Matt Harpring: Advantage….
- Eli Cash: You never gave me the time of day until I started getting good reviews.
- Margot Tenenbaum: Your reviews aren’t that good.
Moving right along….
Power Forward:Resolution-Alternate Take
“You’re turning me into a damn hobo!”
Pau Gasol v. Carlos Boozer: Advantage L.A.
This is where things will begin to get rough for Utah. Kobe and Pau have developed a harmony on court that has essentially made one an extension of the other. They run pick n’ rolls to perfection, with Bryant lofting last second lobs to his nimble teammate and Pau is always ready for his partner to rise up for a twenty footer only to fire a fastball into the paint for an easy deuce. Whichever one of them Utah chooses to focus their defensive efforts on, the other wil surely make them pay. And this is beside the fact that Gasol is quite capable of posting Boozer up or taking him off the dribble by himself.
Gasol’s length will bother Boozer on both ends of the court and lingering injury or not, the only way to compensate is with toughness. His scoring and shooting percentages have both dipped and he had a limited offensive arsenal to begin with. He must make sure that he isn’t marginalized on the boards or his scoring opportunities may be completely stifled by the Lakers big men. Earlier this year Carlos Boozer declared that he may to opt out of a $12 million contract in a year which league revenues and cap numbers are shrinking, with a equally talented and cheaper teammates waiting in the wings. Either way it goes, this series may define him and even a blind man can see that this might not turn out well.
Center: Acknowledgement-Alternate Take
“Goddammit, that’s the last time you stick a knife in me! You hear me?”
Andrew Bynum v. Mehmet Okur: Advantage L.A.
This is certainly the best opening round opponent for Andrew Bynum. Looking good but still on the mend, Bynum should have his way with Okur who is returning from an injury himself. With Kobe and Pau presumably carrying the scoring load, Bynum will only need to assert himself defensively, stay out of foul trouble, corral the occasional offensive board and establish early position in transition to prove to be too much for the Jazz.
“I’m not talking about dance lessons. I’m talking about putting a brick through the other guy’s windshield. I’m talking about taking it out and chopping it up.”
Though not by as much as one might think. Lamar Odom returning to a sixth man role restores balance to the lineup and gives the second unit a definitive leader. At times M.I.A. as a starter, Odom flourishes as a reserve, fully aware that few bench players can match his talent of skill set. His resolve will be tested against another do-it-all in Andrei Kirelenko, but Odom should get the best of the matchup simply by utilizing better teammates. Sasha Vujacic and Kyle Korver may very well shoot each other to a draw, but if Jordan Farmar can regain his confidence and reign in his erractic play, then the edge would have to go to the Laker back court.
But Paul Milsap is not to be overlooked. If Boozer struggles, he is a suitable replacement and if Boozer shines, then Milsap will wreak havoc on the second team. The Lakers bench isn’t lacking big bodies, but DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell simply can’t beat Milsap to the glass or stay with him defensively. He will be the X-Factor for the Jazz in this series.
“I know you Asshole!”
Let’s just call this one a draw.
Lakers in 6.