The Los Angeles Lakers began this preseason with a bang by notching a win against a quality Nuggets team. Kobe Bryant looked excellent and was able to log 21 minutes without suffering any setbacks. Since then though, they have given up a staggering total of 355 points in three games. It may have been easy for Lakers fans to write off poor defensive showings against an elite offensive team such as the Warriors, but the 119 points surrendered to the Jazz on Thursday night is a tough pill to swallow as the Jazz are widely projected as a Western conference cellar dweller. With just four preseason games remaining, Byron Scott will have to quickly find a way to shore up the team’s defensive woes.
Frontcourt: Gordon Hayward is the most versatile player on the Jazz. Sporting all around averages of 15+ points, 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists last season, he takes on both a scoring and playmaking role for his team, and has developed significantly as a two-way player. However, as a jack of all trades, master of none, type of player, he is one elite skill away from truly being able to carry a team in this league. By signing a max deal this past summer, Hayward has become the de facto star player for the Jazz and will be expected to take big strides in his game.
Starting beside Hayward are Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, two former number three overall picks. Both players are more traditional big men who prefer to score in the paint and battle for boards. Accordingly, spacing is a major issue for a Jazz team whose backcourt doesn’t feature many deadeye shooters. Although he is yet another back-to-the-basket big, look for Rudy Gobert to push Favors and Kanter for minutes tonight and throughout the season. Gobert boasts elite size as a true seven footer and has already posted an unbelievable 20 rebound effort in 22 minutes earlier this preseason.
Backcourt: The Jazz surprised a lot of people when they selected Dante Exum in this year’s draft as Trey Burke was a prized acquisition for them just a year ago. Burke posted respectable averages of 12.8 points and 5.7 assists a contest in his rookie season, but his shooting has been pretty dismal. He didn’t hit the 40 percent mark from the field as a rookie and will need to improve significantly as a shooter since he isn’t blowing anyone away with elite athleticism. Rodney Hood slots in as the starting shooting guard and may very well be the sharpshooter the Jazz need. He shot over 40 percent from deep in his lone season at Duke and has the ability to score in bunches. Even while sharing the floor with Jabari Parker, Hood was frequently leaned on as a scorer and he delivered all season.
With Alec Burks out, Dante Exum will spend time backing up both guard spots. His preseason so far has been a mixed bag. He had an alarming eight turnovers in 22 minutes against the Clippers, but has since gone back to back games without one. And while it’s a small sample size and contrary to his reputation, he has been a very accurate shooter from deep. The Jazz finished last season 29th in points scored and 25th in three point field goal percentage. They will need better shooting from their backcourt if they plan on fixing their offense and making any noise in the Western conference.
Things to Watch For:
Defense Effort: Byron Scott will certainly be expecting a lot more from his Lakers on the defensive end. Again, the Jazz were 29th in the league in points scored last season, so allowing 119 points on Thursday was inexcusable. Sure, injuries have hurt the Lakers and they are missing some of their athleticism on the wing, but this is hardly an excuse for that poor a defensive showing. Look for the Lakers to rebound on the defensive end in this one.
Three Point Attempts: Byron Scott wants his Lakers to settle for and shoot fewer three point field goals. However, they attempted just five three pointers on Thursday and are now averaging a comical one attempt per quarter over their last eight (two games). Recent analytics largely favor the three point shot over any shot in basketball save for a layup or dunk. Even if Scott is trying to instill an inside-out offense, that number has to trend up, if only to create the spacing to allow an inside-out offense.
Dribble Penetration: With Jeremy Lin unlikely to suit up for tonight’s contest, the Lakers will again sorely miss a player that can get into the paint and disrupt the defense with regularity. The young perimeter guys have largely settled for mid range jumpers and Scott will need to push them to be more aggressive. Any signs of life in the dribble drive department will work wonders for the Lakers in this contest as the complete lack of that element in Thursday’s contest stuck out like a sore thumb.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are 3.5-point underdogs against the Jazz via Sportsbook.ag.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-3) vs. Utah Jazz (4-1)
6:30 PM PST, October 19, 2014
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Jazz Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Trey Burke
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Enes Kanter
Key Reserves: PG: Dante Exum, PF: Trevor Booker, PF: Rudy Gobert
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
Lakers Post-Game: Byron Scott, “We Need More Than Kobe”