As the Utah Jazz go for their 10th straight win tonight, they will be facing the defending champions, the LA Lakers. The Lakers, who have the best record in the Western Conference at 40-13, are going to be without their starting center, Andrew Bynum. But Bynum may not be the only starter missing from this contest.
Kobe Bryant, the Lakers best player, might also miss the game against the Jazz. Bryant, in addition to Bynum, did not play in LA’s last game, when they beat the Spurs by 12. In that game, Pau Gasol stepped up for the injured stars, as he scored 21 points, grabbed 19 rebounds, dealt out 8 assists, and swatted 5 shots. If Gasol can have a similar performance against the Jazz, they could be looking at their first loss in 10 games.
In order to stop Gasol, or at least contain him better than Tim Duncan and the Spurs did, the Jazz are going to need a solid defensive effort from Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap. I doubt that either of them will be able to handle Gasol on their own, but they will need to hold him just long enough until they get a double team there. Here is where I think Andrei Kirilenko can come up huge for the Jazz.
AK has long arms, and he can use those to his advantage when helping out on defense. With Gasol being a big man, he will not be able to dribble a lot around Kirilenko without losing the rock. Since that is the case, Boozer and Millsap need to make sure that Pau does not receive the ball too close to the basket. If they are able to force him to catch the ball outside, that will be their best chance at stopping him.
The one place where I could see the Jazz having a noticeable advantage is at the point guard position. Deron Williams is in the prime of his career, whereas Derek Fisher is a shade of his old self. He can still hit the long ball, but he does not have the speed or quickness to hang with Williams on defense. I can see this being a big night for D-Will, especially in front of the home crowd at ESA. When Williams blows by Fisher, he will either get many easy hoops at the basket, or he will begin to pile up the assists. Either way, I could see D-Will having a huge impact on this game.
Finally, the Utah bench needs to show up once again. Last night the bench played tremendously for the Jazz, as they were able to overcome an 11-point deficit on the road. When Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko were not producing, the Jazz called on guys like Ronnie Price, CJ Miles, and Wesley Matthews to answer the bell. And that is exactly what they did. If they can have another positive performance in this one, the Jazz should be in very good shape heading into the All-Star Break.