Key Reserves: SF Andrei Kirilenko, PF Derrick Favors, PG Earl Watson, SG Gordon Hayward, G Ronnie Price
The Lakers (54-20) went into their Thursday night TNT match-up with the Mavericks seething with playoff intensity, and the game did not disappoint. From Kobe on down to Theo Ratliff on the end of the bench, each and every Laker came to Staples with a message for the Mavs, and that message was delivered. Emphatically.
The Lakers mauled Dallas by 27 points, but the talk after the game wasn’t about the score, but rather about all the talk the players were doing on the court. All-in-all there were five ejections – the Lakers’ Killer B’s, Brown, Barnes, and Blake; and for the Mavs, Terry and Haywood. The intensity even spilled out into the crowd, with multiple fights being reported, and one fan ejection caught on camera. You asked for playoff basketball? Well, you got an early taste of it.
The purple and gold may be hyped up after last night’s heavyweight prize fight, but it is back to business Friday night against the Utah Jazz. After a lengthy home-stand, the Lakers are back out on the road. Energy Solutions Arena is one of the toughest places to play in the NBA, and the Lakers must be ready to deal with Utah’s rabid fan base.
The Jazz (36-39) are a much different team nowadays. Deron Williams has been shipped out to New Jersey, joining former Lakers Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, and longtime head coach Jerry Sloan stepped away from the team. Devin Harris is the new lead guard in Salt Lake City, and he is nobody to scoff at. Harris is a solid lead guard who can beat you off the dribble, and with the jump shot. Off-guard Raja Bell has earned himself a starting spot under new head coach Tyrone Corbin, and he and Kobe always have great on-court battles.
Utah’s front court is extremely solid. SF C.J. Miles has a smooth left-handed shooting stroke, and uses it well to spread the floor. PF Paul Millsap is like a pseudo-Carlos Boozer, he can score in multiple ways, and is a very effective rebounder. C Al Jefferson is considered one of the best back to the basket players in the league, but his opportunities have been more limited in the Corbin’s system.
The Jazz bench is not amongst the best in the league, but they can be pretty effective. Ronnie Price is a solid bench scorer, Andrei Kirilenko can do a little bit of everything, and Gordon Hayward can put up 15-plus points on any given night.
Three Keys to a Laker Victory:
1. Team Defense on the Pick and Roll – The Lakers always struggle with pick and roll defense, Utah runs it to perfection.
2. Lakers Bigs’ Must Dominate Opposing Bigs – ‘Drew and Pau should easily out-play Jefferson and Millsap – but the matchup of the front line’s will be key.
3. Re-Focus on the Game at Hand – Last night’s game was an emotional one, the Lakers need to re-focus their energy on the Jazz.