Utah Jazz (22-22) at Los Angeles Lakers (28-16)
6:30 PM PST, March 18, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: FS West, NBALP
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Jazz Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Devin Harris
SG: C.J. Miles
SF: Josh Howard
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Derrick Favors
Key Reserves: G/F Gordon Hayward, C Enes Kanter
Jazz Injury Report: G Raja Bell is out (strained right adductor), C Al Jefferson is not with team (personal reasons), G Earl Watson is not with team (sprained left ankle)
The Lakers look to extend the current five-game winning streak by continuing their stellar performance with home games. They currently have a 19-2 home record, which is best in the league. The Lakers face the shorthanded Utah Jazz for the fourth and final time this season. The Lakers fell to the Jazz in February back in Utah after wining the first two matchups against the Jazz. The Jazz are 57-100 all-time against the Lakers, and have a 16-62 record road record against L.A.
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Frontcourt: The Jazz frontcourt will be without their top scorer Al Jefferson, who is not with the team due to a death in his family. Jefferson is averaging 19 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Therefore, Andrew Bynum will have a major advantage against Jefferson’s replacement, Derrick Favors, since Bynum will use his body and strength to get down low on the offensive end for easy buckets. Favors is averaging 8.1 points and 5.3 boards per game. With the absence of Jefferson, Utah’s frontcourt will rely on Paul Millsap. Millsap is averaging 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Josh Howard has put together a solid season thus far, causing other teams to be interested in acquiring him prior to the trade deadline. However, Howard remains in Utah and is averaging 9.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Reserve center Enes Kanter is contributing an average of 4.7 points and 4.6 boards per game this season.
Backcourt: Utah’s backcourt will be without G Raja Bell and backup PG Earl Watson on Sunday night. Watson’s performance in the second half during last February’s match-up against the Lakers created the momentum needed for the Jazz to win. Devin Harris is putting up 10 points and 4.4 assists per game. It will be interesting to watch the Harris/Sessions match-up, since it has been quite a while since the Lakers have had a major edge in the point guard position. C.J. Miles is averaging 9.4 points, two boards and 1.1 assists per game. Whether it is Miles or Hayward guarding Kobe Bryant, Bryant will absolutely have the upper hand. Gordon Hayward is averaging 10.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists for the Jazz this season. Even though Raja Bell is listed as “out” for the Jazz, I would not be surprised to see him play for the chance to guard Kobe Bryant.
Keys to Lakers’ Victory:
Limit Paul Millsap: In my last pre-game report against the Jazz, I wrote about containing Paul Millsap. Well, this key continues for the Lakers in tonight’s game. Millsap is averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds in the three games this season against the Lakers. Pau Gasol needs to take an aggressive approach in guarding Millsap tonight and force him to give up the ball or shoot difficult jumpers.
Offensive Balance: Consistency is a recurring theme for the Lakers this year, even during the games at home. With a shorthanded Jazz roster, the Lakers need to take advantage in multiple areas on the offensive side. In Friday night’s game against Minnesota, the Lakers were able to capture a victory despite poor performances with their frontcourt. Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for 12-35 shooting. Don’t expect that to continue tonight, especially for Bynum and the absence of Al Jefferson. Expect to see a balanced game from the whole roster, including newly acquired Ramon Sessions and Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 30.7 points and 5.7 rebounds against Utah this season.
Win the Rebound and Assists Battle: One of the strongest assets Ramon Sessions brings to the Lakers is his passing game. With Sessions in the lineup, there will be an improvement in ball movement and the transition game. During the last match-up with the Jazz in early February, the Lakers were beat in total assists, 25-12. Furthermore, during the last match-up with the Jazz, the Lakers lost the rebound battle, 50-42. Look for the Lakers to control the boards, especially without Jefferson in the line-up. Moving the ball and controlling the boards to create easy opportunities and second chance points will give the Lakers a strong chance to improve their home record and win the regular season series against the Jazz.