After having Saturday off the Lakers were back in action Sunday night against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers, who had a 19-2 record at home entering the game, were looking to win their sixth overall game. Once again, L.A. found themselves up against a team that would be without their best player. Utah was missing Al Jefferson, and guard Raja Bell was a late scratch as well.
This would be the second game for new point guard Ramon Sessions, who joined the team Thursday following a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. After playing against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, Sessions would suit up for L.A. on Sunday after having actually participated in a Lakers practice.
The game began quite sloppily for the Lakers, who seemed intent on turning the ball over with every possession. There’s no question that turnovers have been a major problem for the team so far this season, but they went on to set a single-quarter record (for this season) in the first quarter.
Thankfully, for the Lakers, Utah wasn’t much more disciplined with the ball. The Jazz managed to turn the ball back over to Los Angeles almost as often, which allowed L.A. to remain in the game.
One thing the Lakers did make a point to do in the first quarter was utilize their size advantage. Without Al Jefferson in the game, the Jazz had no answer for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, and the Lakers gameplan was clearly to get both big men involved. In fact, the first five possessions of the game involved passing the ball into the post to either Bynum or Gasol. While Bynum had a little trouble holding onto the ball, the team’s persistence was still an encouraging sign.
Things didn’t get any prettier for the Lakers in the second quarter. In fact, in many ways they got even worse. The turnover epidemic continued for L.A., who tallied up 17 turnovers in the first half alone. Still, despite the turnovers they were able to push their lead to double digits midway through the quarter, and seemed to have developed a bit of a defensive rhythm.
However, just like we’ve seen many times before this season, the Lakers lead didn’t last very long. Utah was able to scratch their way back into the game, and by halftime they had overcome the Lakers and taken control of the game.
One of the reasons for the Lakers slow start was the lack of production from Kobe Bryant. The “Masked Mamba” started the game 0-5 from the field, and didn’t score until midway through the second quarter when he connected on a pair of free throws.
The Jazz overcame that 10-point deficit to take the lead at halftime, 45-44.
As the second half began the Lakers were looking to figure out their ball control issues and begin to settle down. With Bryant having an obvious off-night, it would be up to Bynum and Gasol to get the job done against the Jazz. The second half didn’t seem much different from the first at the start, as Bryant’s struggles continued and the Jazz faced little defense on the other end of the floor.
One area where the Lakers continued to perform well was with their determination to feed the bigs. When the Lakers have struggled this season it has generally been because their outside players are standing around taking long jump shots, instead of attacking the basket and forcing it inside. Despite the turnovers and the struggles, the Lakers were making it a point of emphasis to get the ball inside to Gasol and Bynum.
However, once again it was the turnovers that dominated the game. Other than the fact that, even despite the turnovers, the game wasn’t the most thrilling, the Lakers seemed to be doing whatever they could to allow the Jazz to keep the lead.
In fact, that was one of the more astonishing stories of the night. Despite the apocalyptic turnover numbers, the Lakers were never more than a few points down. Utah was unable to capitalize on the numerous Lakers miscues, and it suddenly seemed as if it was the Jazz keeping the Lakers in the game rather than the other way around. By the end of the third quarter the Jazz were leading the Lakers 75-69, and L.A. had committed 24 team turnovers.
Despite all the turnover issues and the lack of production from their best player, the Lakers still found themselves with a chance to win in the fourth quarter. The Jazz weren’t about to hand them the victory, however. A large part of their ability to maintain their lead was the play of Turkish center Enes Kanter, who stepped up in the absence of Al Jefferson. Kanter made the Lakers big men, particularly Bynum, work extra hard on both ends of the floor. He used his size and strength to disrupt Bynum on defense, and even put together some solid moves of his own on the offensive end.
A bright spot for the Lakers was the play of guard Ramon Sessions. In his second game with the club, Sessions clearly had an impact off the bench. As the team continued to rack up turnovers at an unbelievable rate, Sessions provided some ball control and speed that the team hasn’t been accustomed to from the point guard position lately.
To make matters worse for the Lakers, the Jazz went on an 11-0 run halfway through the quarter to take their biggest lead of the game. This prompted Mike Brown to try out a lineup that included Sessions, Steve Blake and Bryant on the floor at the same time. The experiment didn’t work as well as Brown hoped, and the Lakers continued to slide.
The big story as the game progressed was the poor shooting of Kobe Bryant. Despite his inability to make a shot, he continued shooting. This cost the Lakers offensively, as they never seemed to have any offensive rhythm.
Still, despite the turnovers and the dreadful shooting from Bryant, the Lakers found themselves with a chance to win the game late in the fourth. With one minute left in the game they trailed by just three points. They had a chance to tie the game as time ran out, but it was the same story for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant missed, again, and the Lakers came up just a few points short.
The Jazz defeated the Lakers at Staples Center 103-99. It was just the third loss of the season at home for the Lakers.