Headed into a Thursday night match-up vs. the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers will seek to redeem themselves after suffering an embarrassing 41-point defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. Although the Jazz’s preseason record currently stands at 3-0, the Lakers’ roster is presumably better in terms of sheer talent than a Utah team that is expected to be a bottom feeder this season. The Lakers played shockingly bad when facing the Jazz last season, tying the season series 2-2, but should match-up pretty well considering their re-loaded frontcourt.
Frontcourt: When Utah allowed the All-Star frontcourt duo of Big Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to walk last summer, it was clear that management was committed to Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. This game plan seemingly failed last season as the two big-men struggled to complement each others game properly, leading to poor spacing and little room to operate within the painted area.
Selected No. 3 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, Kanter has yet to live up to the expectations placed on him upon his arrival three years ago. Apparently he has added a three-point shot, which is really hard to believe when witnessing his awkward shooting form. Similar to Kanter, Favors has failed to evolve into the star forward Utah had hoped for when he was the centerpiece of the deal that sent former Jazz All-Star point guard Deron Williams to the New Jersey Nets in 2011. At this point, Favors is an energy guy at best who only plays well in spurts.
Neither Kanter nor Favors appear to be franchise-altering player, however backup center Rudy Gobert displayed tremendous upside playing for the French national team in the FIBA World Cup. Gobert exhibited his knack for rebounding and blocking shots in France’s defeat of Pau Gasol’s Spanish national team, in which Gobert scored five points, while pulling down an impressive 13 rebounds.
Utah did re-sign swingman Gordon Hayward when they matched a maximum offer sheet presented by the Charlotte Hornets this summer, making him this team’s star player by default. Letting Hayward go would have been foolish, since he has improved his game exponentially dating back to his rookie year. Hayward recorded career highs in points (16.2), rebounds (5.1) and assists (5.2) per game during his 2013-14 campaign. Defensively, the small forward is a solid on-ball defender who can disrupt opposing wings solely by his incredible effort and hustle.
Backcourt: When Utah selected Australian point guard, Dante Exum with the No. 4 overall pick, he was widely expected to become a franchise player upon his arrival. The 19-year old has really struggled to adjust to the NBA game thus far, though, exemplified in his most recent game versus the Clippers in which he was torched by Chris Paul. Through three preseason games, Exum is averaging a mere 6.3 points and 2.3 assists per game. So don’t expect too much production from him just yet. He undoubtedly has an inconceivable amount of talent; it is just a matter of further developing his game if he plans on competing at the highest level possible.
Fortunately for Utah, their lottery pick from the 2013 NBA Draft, Trey Burke, has evidently discovered his niche at the professional level both as a leader and a playmaker. Burke’s performance throughout his rookie year was unimpressive from an efficiency standpoint shooting a subpar 38% from the field and 33% from behind the arc. The one-year of experience has appeared to benefit Burke, though, improving as an orchestrator of Utah’s offense during the preseason, while maintaining that efficiency that is vital to the team’s collective success. A bit undersized, Burke will likely struggle to guard opposing point guards.
At shooting guard, Utah has two young players in Alec Burks and Rodney Hood who will likely see an even split of playing time at the position. The three-year veteran Burks, excels at attacking the basket, but poses a serious liability defensively. Similarly, Hood’s success is totally contingent upon whether he can find success attacking the basket or not. The former Duke Blue Devil’s size is perhaps his greatest advantage standing at 6-foot-8, yet he is a lackluster defender as well.
Things to Watch For:
An Increase in Three-Point Attempts: Head coach Byron Scott has repeatedly emphasized the idea of “old-school” basketball, calling for a major decrease in three-point shot attempts. Well, the Lakers sure did comply with Scott’s wishes; attempting a mere three triples in Sunday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors. We must credit the Lakers for listening to Scott, but this was quite extreme. Ideally, Scott is looking for about 10 to 15 three-point attempts per game, so expect to see that number inflate on Thursday night. Carlos Boozer, Julius Randle and Jordan Hill simply cannot operate in the paint without proper spacing on the floor.
Steve Nash’s Injury Status: Just when we thought Steve Nash’s nerve root injury suffered two years ago was a thing of the past, he re-aggravated the nerve on Sunday forcing him to ask out of the game. The much anticipated duo of Nash and Kobe Bryant has rarely been on the court together since joining forces two years ago. On Wednesday, Byron Scott expressed concern regarding Nash’s status for Thursday’s game after he hurt his back while carrying his bags. With injuries piling up for Los Angeles, Nash’s absence will severely hurt their backcourt depth.
Xavier Henry’s Availability: The high-flying, combo guard Xavier Henry returned to practice this week after taking a near seven month hiatus to recover from wrist surgery performed back in April. Henry exhibited his rare ability to play three different positions making him a very valuable asset for an injury prone Lakers team. If Henry is given the green light to play in Thursday’s preseason game, look for him to share minutes with Ronnie Price at point guard as Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson have officially been ruled out.
Heading into tonight’s game, the Lakers are two-point favorites against the Jazz according to Sportsbook.ag
Utah Jazz (3-0) at Los Angeles Lakers (1-2)
7:00 PM PST, October 16, 2014
Honda Center, Anaheim, CA
TV: TWC SN, NBA TV
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Jazz Projected Lineup
PG: Trey Burke
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Enes Kanter
Key Reserves: PG: Dante Exum, PF: Trevor Booker, C: Rudy Gobert
Lakers Projected Lineup
PG: Ronnie Price
SG: Kobe Bryant
SF: Wesley Johnson
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Jordan Hill
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