After a rough four-game in five nights road trip in which the team finished with a record of 1-3, the Los Angeles Lakers finally return home in hopes of getting things back on track. But it won’t be easy as they take on one of the NBA’s best teams on the rise, the Utah Jazz.
These teams met at the beginning of the season in Utah and the Jazz came out with a hard fought 96-89 victory.
These teams are coming in on different ends of the spectrum as Utah has won five of their last six games while the Lakers come in having lost five of seven.
Both teams are also dealing with injuries. The Lakers’ issues have been well documented as Jose Calderon joined D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young on the sidelines, while Larry Nance Jr. remains questionable. The Jazz are without two starters in George Hill, who is having a career year, and Derrick Favors.
With George Hill out Dante Exum, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, takes his spot in the starting lineup. Exum brings size and athleticism to the position, but the Jazz have been bringing him along slowly after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Next to Exum is Rodney Hood, who should be very familiar to Lakers fans. In a blowout win last season Hood dropped 30 points on the Lakers, in the first half. Hood has shown that he can get very hot and the Lakers must make sure not to let him get going. In the first meeting, the Lakers did a solid job in holding him to only 15 points.
Off the bench, Shelvin Mack and Joe Ingles aren’t great offensive players, but are tough and scrappy guys who bring energy and defense.
The player who will likely match-up with Hood is rookie Brandon Ingram who has shown a more aggressive side since being inserted into the starting lineup. He is averaging 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds as a starter and his defense remains above average thanks to his length and quickness. With the Lakers lacking playmakers, even more pressure will likely fall on the rookie.
Who lines up next to him in the starting lineup remains a question mark. In the second half of Saturday’s game against Memphis, Luke Walton went with Jordan Clarkson. Lou Williams has been the team’s best offensive weapon this season and Walton could hope to get a better start out of his team by inserting him, while Marcelo Huertas is an excellent passer and would allow Walton to keep Clarkson and Williams together off the bench.
Regardless of who starts, all three will play a big role for the Lakers tonight.
Gordon Hayward is one of the better all-around players in the league and he leads the Jazz in scoring while ranking second in rebounds and assists. He is deceptively quick and can score from anywhere on the floor. For Luol Deng, his number one priority will be to contain Hayward and not let him dominate the game.
Manning the middle is Rudy Gobert, arguably the best rim protector in the NBA. Gobert is averaging 2.5 blocks per night and affects far more shots at the rim. Next to him is the crafty veteran Boris Diaw, who does a little bit of everything as far as scoring, rebounding, and passing. He is also difficult to move around on defense as he has quick feet and a large frame.
Utah has a pair of intriguing weapons off the bench. Veteran Joe Johnson has always been an excellent one-on-one scorer and second-year forward Trey Lyles has been their leading scorer off the bench this year.
Speaking of which, Randle has struggled in the last couple of games. His scoring and rebounding were down and he has dealt with foul trouble all season. With a number of playmakers down, the onus will fall on Randle to create shots for both himself and others.
Timofey Mozgov will also play a big role with the 7’2 Gobert in the middle on the other end. Mozgov has the size and strength to battle with Gobert down low, but will have to stay out of foul trouble which has been an issue for him.
It is still unknown whether the Lakers will have Larry Nance Jr. available, but they could really use his versatility and energy against the Jazz. If he can’t go, Thomas Robinson will continue to get more minutes alongside Tarik Black. The Lakers also recalled Ivica Zubac from the D-League and his size could make him an option against Gobert.
Three Keys To Victory
Push The Tempo
Utah is a team that thrives by slowing the game down and relying on their excellent defense. Without some of their best offensive players, the Lakers will struggle if they are consistently allowing Utah to set up on that end. Getting easy baskets in transition will be extremely necessary.
Take Care of the Ball
The Lakers have had issues all season taking care of the ball. The good news for them is that Utah is not a team that creates a lot of steals and turnovers themselves. If the Lakers can value their possessions and not give Utah any easy baskets they should be able to stay in this game.
Get Julius Randle Going
With Russell and Nick Young both out, Julius Randle is one of the few Lakers remaining who can consistently create shots for himself and others. If the Lakers plan on turning things around, Randle must lead the way.
Los Angeles Lakers (10-12) Vs. Utah Jazz (12-9)
7:30 P.M. PST, December 5, 2016
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Jazz Starting Lineup:
PG: Dante Exum
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Boris Diaw
C: Rudy Gobert
Key Reserves: Joe Johnson, Trey Lyles, Shelvin Mack, Joe Ingles
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Marcelo Huertas
SG: Brandon Ingram
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Jordan Clarkson, Thomas Robinson, Lou Williams, Tarik Black