The Los Angeles Lakers began the new regime of head coach Luke Walton with an impressive opening night victory against the Houston Rockets. During a contest in which they trailed for the majority of the game, the young core was able to close the game with confidence.
While the team struggled defensively throughout the night, Walton remained optimistic during the game, cheering on his team through the positives. The team had an excellent offensive showing, shooting 50.6 percent from the field on the night.
Jordan Clarkson finished the game with 25 points, three steals and three rebounds on 8-for-12 shooting. Julius Randle also was efficient, going 9-for-11, with 18 points, six assists and seven rebounds.
After a spectacular showing at Staples Center, the Lakers embark on their first road game of the season, battling against a vastly improved, but injury-riddled Utah Jazz team.
Head coach Quin Snyder inserted a relatively new Jazz starting lineup in their opening night loss to the Portland Trailblazers, as the team made some veteran acquisitions during the offseason. Point guard George Hill pesters his opposition on defense, while his playmaking abilities can create opportunities for the Jazz. He collected 19 points and six assists in the opener.
Shooting guard Rodney Hood is steadily emerging into a star player in his third season in the league. The left-handed threat even received some respect from Kobe Bryant last season, with the legend demanding to guard him in Bryant’s Hollywood ending. In the season opener, the 24-year-old totaled 26 points on 9-for-17 shooting.
Dante Exum, who missed all of last season after suffering a torn ACL while playing for the Australian national team, is healthy coming into this season and received eight minutes of playing time in a back up guard role. With Alec Burks missing the season opener, Shelvin Mack also played a big role off the bench for Utah.
The Jazz guards have this team making strides in the right direction, as many basketball aficionados consider them a playoff sleeper.
After missing the season opener, guard Jose Calderon is listed as doubtful for Friday’s contest.
Utah made some major veteran additions to its front court in the offseason and they are already playing a huge role thanks to injuries to arguably Utah’s two best players.
Small forward Joe Johnson had a coming out party in his first game with the Jazz, dropping 29 points, three assists and four rebounds on 12-for-16 shooting. He provided clutch shots for the team, even contributing a three-point play that would prove to be the final lead for the Jazz against the Trailblazers.
After missing the season opener with a knee injury, power forward Derrick Favors is expected to make his season debut tonight against the Lakers. He will come off the bench and be on a minutes restriction, however.
Veteran Boris Diaw will start at the power forward spot for the second straight game. Diaw lacks the athleticism of Favors, but is one of the best passing big men in the NBA.
French center Rudy Gobert is the anchor of the defense, with his lengthy 7’1″ frame creating havoc near the basket. Gobert received the bulk of playing time on Tuesday, collecting 12 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks in almost 41 minutes played.
Budding star Gordon Hayward is still sidelined with a finger injury, which he hopes to return from some time in late November. Hayward, who is regarded as the leader of this Jazz team, can be seen giving hands-on advice constantly to the emerging team. Hayward insists on traveling with the team while nursing his injury, which the entire roster has truly appreciated thus far.
Randle, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov will have to stay aggressive against the Jazz frontcourt, in order to keep the open opportunities at a minimum.
Keys To Victory:
Play At Your Pace: The Jazz represent the complete opposite of the Rockets. Last season, Utah was dead last in pace, but second in opp. points per game and seventh in defensive rating. They will be looking to keep this a halfcourt game
The Lakers young core should feel ready to get out and run on the court, especially after a day of rest in between games. The return of Favors gives the Jazz one big man capable of getting up and down the floor, but Johnson and Gobert would likely struggle keeping up a high pace for a long period of time.
The Lakers had 20 fast break points in a fast-paced game against the Rockets on Wednesday, but might need more against the Jazz. While the Jazz guards are agile and quick, Deng and Randle should fill the wings and provide fast break opportunities for the big men running down the court.
Stay Steady Defensively: The Jazz have two deadly three-point shooters in Johnson and Hood. The three-point specialists need to be attended to, as they combined for six threes in the season opener. Laker fans might still have nightmares of Hood’s three-point capabilities, torching the Lakers for eight three-pointers in the contest at home during the 2015-16 season.
The Rockets were able to hit early threes against the Lakers, but Walton and the roster adjusted rather well. The Rockets finished the game going 7-for-29 from three-point range. The Lakers will also need to have better pick and roll defense, as the Rockets dissected them consistently. The big men must decide which player they are attending to off the pick, with the help side defense ready to assist.
Los Angeles Lakers (1-0) Vs. Utah Jazz (0-1)
6:00 P.M. PST, October 28, 2016
Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM (ESPN)/1330 KWKW (Spanish)
Projected Jazz Starting Lineup:
PG: George Hill
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Joe Johnson
PF: Boris Diaw
C: Rudy Gobert
Key Reserves: Dante Exum, Trey Lyles, Shelvin Mack, Derrick Favors, Joe Ingles
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: D’Angelo Russell
SG: Nick Young
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Julius Randle
C: Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Lou Williams, Tarik Black