Lakers vs. Jazz Pre-Game Report: Road Trip Continues in Utah

Los Angeles Lakers (14-9) at Utah Jazz (12-9)
6:00 PM PST, February 4, 2012
Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
Radio: 710 ESPN (English)/ 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Jazz Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Devin Harris
SG: Gordon Hayward
SF: Josh Howard
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Jefferson

Key Reserves: G C.J. Miles, F Derrick Favors, C Enes Kanter

Jazz Injury Report: G Raja Bell listed as day-to-day (strained right adductor)

Lakers Injury Report: G Steve Blake will not play (sternum)

The Lakers continue their Grammy road trip by facing the Utah Jazz for the third time this season. The Lakers won the first two match ups against the Jazz, the first by 25 points, the second by three points in a thrilling overtime game. Kobe Bryant seems to consistently have big games against the Jazz when playing at the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, as Bryant is averaging 33 points against the Jazz this season.

Frontcourt: The Jazz frontcourt led by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap has much improved since the beginning of the season. Al Jefferson is averaging a team leading 19 points and nine rebounds per game. The Bynum and Jefferson matchup should be interesting to watch as Bynum needs to use his body and strength to get down low on the offensive end and force Jefferson away from the bucket on the defensive end. Paul Millsap has come a long way since starting the season as a reserve. Millsap is averaging 17 points and nine rebounds per game. Josh Howard seems to be still trying to find his place with the Jazz, especially in the starting lineup. Howard is averaging nine points and three rebounds per game. Reserve forward Derrick Favors and center Enes Kanter are each contributing well off the bench, adding an average of 15 points and seven boards combined this season.

Backcourt: Devin Harris has had to play through rumors that the Jazz front office is shopping around the point guard. Harris is still struggling with his role of being a “true point guard” as he is averaging nine points and five assists per game. If Andrew Goudelock plays like he has been during the past two weeks, he should have no problem winning the battle with backup point guard Earl Watson. Gordon Hayward is proving to be a potential star of the Jazz, averaging 10 points per game on 40 percent shooting. However, he is responsible for guarding Kobe Bryant and will have Kobe on him, which will be overwhelming for the 21 year-old Hayward.

Keys to Lakers’ Victory:

Contain Paul Millsap: During the previous two games against the Jazz this season, the Lakers have done a solid job in containing the Jazz’s offense. However, in both games their leading score was Paul Millsap. In the December game, Millsap recorded 18 points and 8 rebounds coming off the bench. As a starter in January, he scored 29 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Pau Gasol needs to take an aggressive approach in guarding Millsap tonight and force him to give up the ball or shoot difficult jumpers. Gasol and Bynum need to clean up the boards and keep Millsap off the offensive glass.

Offensive Balance: Consistency is a recurring theme for the Lakers this year. As mentioned above, Kobe has a tendency to have big games against the Jazz, especially in Utah. However, the rest of the team needs to step up and contribute to the offense. Rookie surprise Andrew Goudelock is averaging 12 points per game and the Lakers are 4-1 when he plays 15 or more minutes per game. The Lakers’ bench had their best game of the season this week against Charlotte, scoring 44 points, because they executed effective ball movement, especially around the perimeter, until they found the open shot or the best opportunity.

Score Over 100, Keep Them Under 100: Scoring over 100 points per game used to be a regular occurrence for the Lakers during the past several seasons. This year is a quite different situation. With the Lakers struggling on the offensive end and with Mike Brown turning the team’s focus to defense, scoring over 100 is infrequent. However, it is important to note that the Lakers are 3-0 in games when they have scored over 100. What’s even more important is that the Utah Jazz are 1-6 when they give up 100 or more points to their opponents. Achieving this will be key for the Lakers to leave Utah with a victory.

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