There’s trouble on the horizon in the form of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, that game won’t kick off until tomorrow, but that’s the one I’m sure most Jazz fans have circled on their calendar if only because we defeated LA 96-87 back before February’s miserable downhill spiral; and now that Ramon Sessions is on board (and looking quite good as far as I can tell), our chances in LA look quite slim, to say the least.
But let’s focus on the positive, shall we?
Tonight our boys who once sported purple and blue will face the new-look Golden State Warriors at home. There are a lot of positive aspects to this game: 1) Utah is at home, which means they will score from the outside 2) Gordon Hayward is the man 3) Derrick Favors is starting for the first time since … well, since I can remember; and 4) Golden State sucks.
Well, at least they used to suck. I have no idea if they suck anymore since the trade deadline brought them oft-injured former Utah center Andrew Bogut (who hasn’t played since January 20) from the Milwaukee Bucks. They also acquired Richard Jefferson from the San Antonio Spurs.
Unfortunately, in order to pick up Bogut and Jefferson, Golden State had to deal its best player, Monta Ellis, along with offensive threat Stephen Jackson (who they also received from the Bucks). I’m not saying the trade was a bad move since Ellis, a known scorer, has difficulty playing in a team environment and likewise makes some bad decisions down the stretch. This year he burned the Jazz for 32 and 33 in their two previous matchups, losing the former (though he played without Stephen Curry and Andris Biedrins – aka the blond stallion) and winning the latter (by a hefty 18 points).
With Ellis gone, Curry and rookie Klay Thompson can take the reins; and forward/center David Lee can play his true power forward position alongside Bogut (assuming the former Bucks star actually plays).
Bogut will (obviously) not play tonight, and neither will Curry, which means the Jazz should have a fairly easy victory, assuming Lee, Thompson and the bat-shiz crazy Nate Robinson don’t explode for a combined 90 points.
Utah will play without Jefferson for only the fourth time this season, Raja Bell and, if I’m not mistaken, backup PG Earl Watson. Losing Al hurts, as he provides efficient points, but against Golden State the Jazz have enough pieces to more than pick up the slack. I expect Hayward to go off for 30, nay 50 points!
Against LA, the positive vibe diminishes greatly.
Without Big Al, the Jazz have a very slim chance of winning in LA. For starters, the contest takes place in LA LA land against a team still smarting from that February loss. The Lakers traded Fisher (Ha! Ha!) to the Houston Rockets for Jordan Hill, but acquired aspiring Cleveland PG Ramon Sessions. The loss of Fisher means LA lost some clutch outside shooting, but Sessions is quicker, and able to move the ball more astutely. And don’t forget they still have Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and some guy named Kobe Bryant.
While LA isn’t the powerhouse they once were (funny how one ill-advised trade can change things), they still own the third best record in the west (behind the Spurs and Thunder) and currently ride a five game winning streak. Their biggest disadvantage against the Jazz is their lack of depth, especially since they lost Luke Walton (kidding!). Of the names coming off the bench, only Troy Murphy carries a familiar tone, and he’s only averaging 3.4 ppg. Outside of the big three, no other player scores in double digits on a continual basis.
The Laker’s biggest ass(et) against the Jazz was always Lamar Odom, whose size and versatility made him a difficult match-up for the Jazz’s shorter bigs (looking at you Boozer and Milsap). With him and Fisher (another perennial killer during close games) gone, Kobe, Gasol and Bynum have had to pick up the slack. (Funny how all the Bryant-as-greatest-player-ever talk has resided since Odom’s departure … you mean he didn’t win those championships by himself?)
Favors will most likely guard Bynum throughout the contest, with Enes Kanter filling in from time to time, while Milsap will have to defend the lengthy Gasol mano-a-mano (DeMarre Carroll might also get some playing time here). Hayward and Josh Howard will have to switch off on Bryant (in the wake of Bell’s continued absence), and take turns on Matt Barnes. The only other real threat is Meta World Peace (I can’t believe I just typed that), a still-potent offensive threat in the event he plays with some interest.
When the Jazz beat LA, nearly everyone contributed – Milsap and Jefferson combined for 34 points, Favors and Howard had 12, Kanter had 10; Hayward and Miles put up seven apiece. The same has to happen on Sunday. With Jefferson gone, Milsap and Favors need to pick up most of the slack; and Hayward needs to score at least 20 (no pressure there). It’ll be interesting to see how Devin Harris matches up against Sessions (who burned the Jazz for 14 points when they met in Cleveland), and whether Tinsley can continue his exemplary play (he averaged eight points and eight assists in the last three games in which he participated).
In truth, the biggest enemy the Jazz face is themselves. If they can get over their lowly road woes and play the way they do at home, they have a real good shot at stealing a win in LA. On paper, the Jazz have more depth, and more athleticism, and only lack experience.
If Hayward (this month’s x-factor) produces, the Jazz can win.
Unfortunately, history is not on their side.
The last time Utah won in LA was January 1, 2006.
Topics: Al Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, Derek Fisher, Devin Harris, Golden State Warriors, Gordon Hayward, Jamaal Tinsley, Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers, Meta World Peace, Monta Ellis, Paul Milsap, Preview, Stephen Curry, Trade, Utah Jazz