The Los Angeles Lakers topped the Western Conference standings for the early going of the 2020-21 season, but the Utah Jazz recently dethroned the defending NBA champions behind a remarkable stretch of play.
Donovan Mitchell has been building on the extraordinary display from the Orlando bubble and together with Rudy Gobert inspired the Jazz’s emergence as one of the revelations of the current campaign in its first half. Their recent 129-115 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks capped off an impressive 20-game stint during which Utah lost just three games.
Meanwhile, the Lakers suffered their first two road losses and tripped up at home on a few occasions, allowing the Jazz to move past them in the standings. Utah impressed Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on Friday to the extent he told ESPN’s Eric Woodyard they deserved the mantle of the West’s top team:
Antetokounmpo said they’re the “best team in the West.” … “It just looks fun. Like when I watch them play, it looks fun, it looks easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “It looks simple. For sure, they look like us last year, and man, when you’re at that point and you’re playing with that confidence, you’re hard to beat for sure.”
The Jazz lead the NBA in 3-point attempts and also made the most shots from downtown. Besides, Utah dominates opponents in the paint and ranks first in the defensive and total rebounds stats. Mitchel averages career-high 24.1 points per game and 40.6% shooting efficiency from behind the 3-point line, among others.
The Lakers, with a 21-7 record, are currently just two games behind the Jazz (23-5). Utah will host L.A. on Feb. 24 in a blockbuster matchup that could potentially serve as a preview of a surprising Western Conference Finals.
Vogel expects Lakers to ‘get better’ despite winning home streak
The Lakers finished their five-game homestand with a perfect 5-0 record. However, L.A. showed they are yet to solve inconsistency issues and improve on the defensive end. Those were particularly on display in the three consecutive overtime games against the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Head coach Frank Vogel said he appreciated the team’s grind but wasn’t completely satisfied with the overall performance. “We’re happy to get three wins, but certainly we’ve got to be better,” he said after the second victory over the Thunder.
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