Pre-Game Report: Lakers Travel to Utah to Take on the Jazz

Los Angeles Lakers (7-4) at Utah Jazz (6-3)
6:00 PM PST, January 11, 2012
EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT
Radio: 710 ESPN

Jazz Projected Starting Line-up

PG: Devin Harris
SG: Raja Bell
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Al Jefferson

Key Reserves: PF Derrick Favors, PG Earl Watson, G/F Josh Howard

Playing for the second straight night, the Lakers visit the Jazz on Wednesday night after a successful game against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Bryant led the way for L.A. with 48 points, his first 40-point effort of the season. But there was no time to sit and reflect, as the Lakers had to fly to Salt Lake City for an always-tough matchup with the Jazz.

Frontcourt: The Jazz are well stocked with big men. Collectively they are second in the NBA with 7.5 blocks per game. The team’s leading scorers, Jefferson and Millsap, account for one third of the team’s scoring. At 6’10’’ Jefferson may be a bit short for a center, but he’s proven that he’s a 20/10 threat on any given night. Off the bench they have a promising young player in Derrick Favors, as well as rookie Enes Kanter. Favors is still filling out, but he’s already developing a solid inside game. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will have their hands full with the deep Utah frontcourt.

Backcourt: The Jazz’s woes at the one and two are readily apparent. Devin Harris has struggled to find his game and posted disappointing averages of 9.8 points and 4.5 assists. Angry Jazz fans have been calling for Raja Bell to be benched, or possibly even retire. Thus far he hasn’t been able to contribute much on the offensive end.

Notable stat: Bell has only managed to score 26 points for the entire season (eight games). The lone bright spot in the backcourt is Gordon Hayward, who has shown some flashes of brilliance. He’s an all around player who can score, pass and rebound. Off the bench, slasher Josh Howard provides a much needed scoring boost. He has been able to get to the line 34 times this year, connecting on 91 percent of those attempts.

Keys to Lakers’ Victory:

Deny the Post Pass – The Jazz get the majority of their scoring from inside the paint. If the Lakers can keep the ball away from the Jazz big men, it will force the action on the guards who have struggled to score. The Lakers also need to keep Josh Howard from slashing through the paint – where he flourishes by picking up cheap fouls.

Apply Defensive Pressure – If the Lakers stay tough they should be able to hold the Jazz under 85 points. The Jazz are struggling on the offensive end of the floor, collectively shooting 43 percent, and averaging only 90.5 points per game. Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward are the two main ball handlers, so the Lakers should focus on stopping them. For the Lakers, good defense creates turnovers which lead to fast breaks and easy baskets.

Stay Patient on Offense – The Lakers need to take better care of the ball. They are third worst in the NBA with 15.9 turnovers per game. Most of these turnovers occur when the Lakers try to force the offense; instead they should keep rotating the ball until there is an opening. Kobe has been playing very well lately, especially Tuesday night, so expect him to run the offense. Kobe and Bynum are on a tear lately. Kobe’s 27.6 ppg is second best in the NBA but what’s even more impressive are his career best 6.1 assists.  Bynum is averaging 18.8 points with a league best 15.7 boards.

Lakers Injury watch: Troy Murphy (stomach flu),  Josh McRoberts (toe)

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