After a three-game road trip the Los Angeles Lakers finally return home to Staples Center where they will look to continue their winning ways. Standing in their way is a talented but struggling Utah Jazz team that has lost four of their last five games.
LeBron James has been unreal recently for the Lakers, averaging 35.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 56 percent from the field and 54.3 percent from deep. The question this season is which of his teammates will give him consistent support.
For Friday’s game, arguably the two most important Lakers will be JaVale McGee and Lonzo Ball.
McGee continues to be one of the best signings in the entire league, but he has his work cut out for him going against the Jazz’s stalwart big man and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.
Gobert ranks in the top-10 in both rebounds and blocks in addition to making improvements offensively, ranking second in field goal percentage. Containing Gobert, especially on the glass, will be crucial for the Lakers holding down the Jazz offense.
Ball, meanwhile, is coming off his best performance of the season in the Lakers win over the Cavaliers. His aggression drew rave reviews from his teammates and coach and everyone will be looking for him to continue that style of play. But just as important will be his defense against noted Laker-killer Ricky Rubio.
In three games against the Lakers last season Rubio averaged 20.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting and 52.9 percent from deep. Utah is a middle of the road offensive team, so the Lakers can’t afford to allow Rubio to get hot once again, and that primary job will fall on Lonzo.
One major difference for the Jazz this season has been their defense. After being the league’s premier defensive squad last year, they have been middle of the road this season and even worse when it comes to taking care of the ball.
But even with their issues the Jazz remain a dangerous team with one of the league’s best young superstars in second-year guard Donovan Mitchell. With everyone focusing on Mitchell now, his efficiency has suffered so far this season, but it will take a team effort to contain him.
Brandon Ingram will likely draw the initial task of sticking with Mitchell and Ingram has done an admirable job of bothering some of the league’s elite guards due to his length and effort. But make no mistake everyone will need to keep their eyes on Mitchell all night. Ball, James, Josh Hart (if he suits up), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson will surely see some time on the future All-Star.
One place where the Lakers could have a major advantage is with their second unit. Caldwell-Pope has come on strong recently, averaging 13.2 points and hitting 50 percent behind the arc over the last five games. Hart and Stephenson give the Lakers toughness on the perimeter and are each capable of getting hot and taking over a game while Tyson Chandler continues to provide the veteran experience, size, rebounding, and defense the Lakers need.
The likes of Jae Crowder, Alec Burks, Dante Exum, and Royce O’Neale should be no match for the Lakers bench squad and it would be great if they could push out the advantage when they’re in the game.
The Lakers should also have an advantage from three-point range over this Jazz team that ranks in the bottom-5 in three-point percentage. Players like Rubio, Crowder, and Joe Ingles are certainly capable of getting hot however, so the Lakers can’t afford to just get lax on that end. But with James, Hart, and shooting as well as they have been, the Lakers could use that to their advantage and come out with a win.
“I thought they were going to come out a little bit hotter this year. Last year they could kind of sneak up on people,” Kyle Kuzma said of the Jazz. “I think this year everybody knows they’re going to be a great team. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ve got a great coach and great players.”
Los Angeles Lakers (10-7) vs. Utah Jazz (8-10)
7:00 P.M. PT, Nov. 23, 2018
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Brandon Ingram
SF: LeBron James
PF: Kyle Kuzma
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Tyson Chandler, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Projected Jazz Starting Lineup:
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
Key Reserves: Jae Crowder, Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Royce O’Neale