The Jazz and Lakers have had many epic battles over the years in Salt Lake City. Early in his career Kobe Bryant struggled mightily in Utah, including the infamous game where he shot 4 airballs in an overtime loss as the Lakers lost 8 of 9 playoff games to the Jazz over a 2 year span.
However, lately, Kobe has turned into a stone cold assassin as far as the Jazz are concerned, and tonight was no exception. Kobe scored 40+ points for the 7th time in his career against the Jazz, and the Lakers picked up their first road win of the year in Utah where the Jazz entered the game undefeated having won their first 5 games to start the season.
Kobe actually had a chance to win the game in overtime, but rather than try to take the ball to the hoop he merely dribbled at the 3-point line until there was only about 2 seconds left in the game and just like 1997 he shot an airball as time expired. Kobe’s airball capped an ugly 4th quarter for both teams as the Jazz outscored the Lakers 17-to-12 to force overtime.
Utah jumped out to a quick 4 point lead on back to back baskets by Paul Millsap, but Kobe responded with a 3-pointer and Pau Gasol made his first 3 pointer of the season as the Lakers pulled out a 90-to-87 victory.
Some observations from tonight’s game:
- The Lakers are not nearly as deep as they have been in the past. They only got 11 points from their bench and sure they were without Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono. But the fact that they are relying on those 3 as key contributors off the bench as opposed to Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic tells you just how much better last seasons Lakers bench was than this years. This will be something to watch as the season wears on, can the Lakers stay healthy with Bryant, Gasol, Bynum and Fisher playing 40 minutes per night?
- Devin Harris is off to a terrible start to the season and continues to struggle running the Jazz offense. The Jazz are a different team with Earl Watson running the point, he pushes the ball up the floor much more than Harris, which gets the Jazz easy buckets. Harris has only had 1 game with more than 6 assists and he’s also struggling to score. As a shoot first point guard he’s actually scored in single digits in 6 games this year as opposed to 4 games scoring in double figures. Yes Harris is still new to the Jazz system, but tonight Harris was minus 14 in 31 minutes on the floor while Watson was plus 11 in 22 minutes. The Jazz desperately need Harris to turn things around, they are a franchise that has been spoiled by point guards who put up huge assist numbers, and if Harris isn’t scoring, and isn’t getting him teammates involved, then the Jazz need to seriously consider playing Watson more or even look to deal Harris for a point guard who better fits their system.
- Al Jefferson struggled once again against the Lakers length and athleticism. Jefferson followed up his best game of the season with an ugly 5-of-17 shooting from the floor and just 11 points in 43 minutes. Meanwhile the Jazz 2 young big men, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter spent most of the night watching the game from the bench. Favors played just under 12 minutes and Kanter saw just under 10 minutes of action. This simply cannot happen, especially when Jefferson is struggling to score, and more importantly struggling to rebound on the defensive end. Favors and Kanter had 7 points and 9 rebounds in their limited action, they also didn’t look frustrated by the length of Gasol and Bynum, and they played solid defense and dominated rebounding. Even more frustrating is the Jazz tendency to see their offense become stagnant with Big Al getting the ball in the low post and the other 4 players on the floor standing around and watching. Jefferson has to look to pass more when he gets the ball in the post and the Jazz have to have more movement on the offensive end with screens and players cutting to the hoop. Favors and Kanter have earned the opportunity to play more than 22 minutes combined, especially when Jefferson is struggling.
- Josh Howard continued his great start of the season with 18 points. However the Jazz other 4 wings, Raja Bell, Gordon Hayward, CJ Miles, and Alec Burks have been up and down all year, as Tyrone Corbin continues to struggle to find the right lineups. Bell actually shot the ball well tonight, but only took 4 shots and fouled out playing tough defense on Kobe in 33 and a half minutes of action. For the second straight game Burks played limited minutes as Miles was the 2nd wing off the bench. The Burks/Miles dilemma has been frustrating from a fans perspective, and has to be tough for the players to deal with, not knowing who is going to play each night and who is going to sit. Gordon Hayward also continues to look to pass first rather than try to finish when he goes to the hoop, and continues to struggle with his outside shot. He was 1-0f-7 from the floor, and 0-for-2 from behind the 3 point line. He is now 6-of-25 shooting 3’s through the first 10 games of the season. He also seems to be struggling deciding if he should pass or try to finish as he goes to the hoop. He did lead the team with assists for the 2nd straight game, and you have to think his shot will start falling. But like the other youngsters he only played 20 minutes, and hopefully the lack of playing time for the young guys doesn’t turn into a trend. Also you have to wonder what Jeremy Evans has to do to see some playing time. He failed to get off the bench for the 4th time in 5 games and with the Jazz offense struggling tonight, you have to think they could have used Evans energy and rebounding. Coach Corbin has to figure out his lineups and soon or the players may begin to struggle not knowing what their roles are.
The Jazz certainly looked better than they did the first time they faced the Lakers but they have some obvious concerns they must fix. They need to somehow get Devin Harris going offensively either scoring or getting his teammates involved by simply running the offense. Too many times he’s walking the ball up the court and he seems hesitant to take the ball to the hoop.
Al Jefferson has got to get his teammates more involved when he has the ball in the low post. The Jazz offense cannot afford to consist of Jefferson looking for his shot while 4 guys stand around and watch, there has got to be more movement and more guys cutting to the basket when Big Al has the ball on offense.
Finally, Tyrone Corbin has to develop some kind of consistency with his rotations and lineups. Favors and Kanter have been productive and have proven they deserve more playing time, they simply offer too much defensively and rebounding. Something has to be figured out in terms of playing time for Bell, Hayward, Miles and Burks, all 4 are struggling with their shot, and you have to think not knowing when they are going to play is contributing to their struggles. The Jazz have certainly improved as the season has progressed but they’ve also benefited from a soft schedule and if they plan on staying in the playoff hunt they need to improve in some key areas, most notably production from Devin Harris.