- David Thorpe, NBA
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To pull off big upsets on the road, there are normally a few conditions that have to be met. The home team needs to get off to a bad start, or lose interest if it has a big lead. Suffering from a horrible shooting night works, too. Unfortunately for Utah, the Lakers came out focused and prepared in Game 1, winning each of the first two quarters by 11 for a 62-40 lead at halftime. That allowed L.A. to coast from that point, surviving the much more energized Jazz effort after intermission. The Lakers are not concerned, but the Jazz have to be encouraged that they stayed competitive.
The Jazz started out running their regular flex offense, mixed in with pro sets to utilize Carlos Boozer inside. Without Mehmet Okur to stretch the floor, their spacing in flex mode is not good enough to earn quality shots inside. And settling for long-range Ronnie Brewer/C.J. Miles jump shots is a mistake.
The Jazz mostly trashed those sets in favor of high and side ball screens for Williams or isolations for him or Boozer. Whether or not Okur plays in Game 2 , seeing the Jazz get back to their flex game would not be a surprise. It gets ball reversals and gives Brewer a chance to make plays, while forcing Kobe Bryant to exert energy on defense. Midway through the third quarter of Game 1, with Utah hanging on (15-point deficit), Brewer had just 7 points on 2-of-7 shooting, with no offensive rebounds.
• Utah telegraphed too many passes to Boozer inside, making it easy for the Lakers to get steals (five in the first half alone) and deflections. Patience and trust that he'll find a crease are key, but L.A.'s off-ball awareness is strong, which puts pressure on the passer.
• In the third quarter Utah featured some Boozer post-ups. Boozer showed he can score with relative ease, and he may get a lot more looks in Game 2. He can post low and bang, or high and drive.
• Utah played some cat and mouse with Lamar Odom when he posted, threatening a double, then recovering. They acted similarly with Pau Gasol, rarely fully committing to the double, allowing him relatively easy shots but avoiding fouls. If Okur plays, Utah may be more committed and physical inside since they'll have one extra big man.
• The Jazz employed the same tactic with Kobe, using Andrei Kirilenko to defend. Except that Kobe simply turned away from the taller helper and got his fadeaway jumper. If Utah wants to contest that, it needs to force him to turn into the taller player, but that risks getting beat to the rim.
• The Jazz found that spreading the floor and isolating Deron Williams high, without a screener, still allowed him to penetrate and make plays. They can't employ this strategy all game, because it will wear him down too much, but seeing more of it sprinkled in with Boozer post-ups and their ball-screen game will help to keep the Lakers' defense off balance. And it worked best in the early offense, before Lakers defenders were set. Do the Jazz have the shooters to space it out after the Lakers set their base defense?
• Kobe was able to dribble freely when marked by Korver, instead of being trapped. This needs to change in Game 2.
• The Lakers were able to hit long outlets to start the break. Utah needs to sprint back in the middle, like always (must protect the rim first) but one player can act as a spy and rush to steal those side outlet passes. That's easier to do if the big men are racing back, freeing a guard to make that play.
• Utah may not have had successful breaks, but not because the Lakers did a good job sprinting back. They didn't in the first half, but got better later.
• It took just three minutes for the Lakers to get going in the first half, which is why they took a 22-point lead at halftime. But it was a different story in the third quarter. They were lackluster on both ends, committing too many silly fouls and wasting possession after possession on offense.
• Williams caused problems in the early offense, attacking in space and looking for buckets for himself or open teammates. L.A. has to get back with five defenders and establish its full defensive presence right away, slowing him down and forcing Utah to run a set.
• Utah applied good ball pressure, very "handsy." The Lakers gave up six steals through three quarters and had 13 turnovers at that point, and they need to be stronger with the ball. That's a mental decision.
• The Lakers' first points off an offensive rebound came at the start of the fourth quarter. Though they were shooting well, their big men and swing players have to assume every shot is a miss.
• No area is more of a concern than their defensive rebounding, where the Lakers simply got killed. No strategic adjustments needed here, just a far better effort and hitting people, then going after the ball.
• On Utah's high-ball screens, Kobe is very focused on Williams. This allows Brewer to slash. Kobe can be aware of his help responsibilities and still see Brewer.
• On Utah's side-ball screens, the best option is Boozer flashing middle. The Lakers have to rotate onto that action before worrying about weakside shooters.
• Bryant is their best player in the pinch post but didn't play from there too often.
• Utah can count on being much better than 3-of-13 from the 3-point line, with Williams doing better than 0-for-4. And Okur would be a huge help, as well.
• The Jazz had 10 fast-break points but could have had 20-plus. They executed poorly, not a common thing.
• The Lakers will likely play a much more complete game in Game 2.
• Coach Phil Jackson almost certainly will stress how the Celtics last season, and Utah on Sunday, dominated the offensive glass. Will the Lakers learn that lesson?
The Jazz showed grit and pride in the second half, no surprise to anyone who has seen them play. It is something to build on, and perhaps can convince them they can steal a game. But Jackson coached as if he was glad his team was stuck in neutral in the second half, understanding that peaking in mid-April is a waste. The Lakers do not need to play their best to win Game 2, and they won't because of it. But they are just too strong to lose to a less-than-healthy Jazz team.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 2
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. and the executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for more than 40 NBA, European and D-League players. Those players include Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.
Scouts Inc. breaks down Game 2 of the Western Conference series between the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Lakers and picks the winner.