Scouting Update: Jazz-Lakers, Game 3
Ask almost any coach whose team is playing the Lakers in Los Angeles if he thinks his team would have a good chance of winning if it shot 49.4 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3, 79 percent from the line, and mixed in 13 steals and 6 blocks, while matching the Lakers on the glass.
It's hard to imagine anyone could expect to get more from his team than Jazz coach Jerry Sloan got, yet the Jazz still trailed by double digits at the end of every quarter. But Utah heads home with the belief that it can win at least one time at home, and that is a powerful feeling compared with how the Jazz started this series. The Lakers have a fight on their hands.
• The Lakers are a great No. 1 seed because of their balance, as they can dominate their opponents with great offense or suffocating defense. Utah has ably handled their defense, but must spend time devising ways to slow them down.
• Utah got caught with L.A.'s single and double drag screen action too often, helping the Lakers make 18 of 21 shots in the first quarter (an NBA record). But some of the baskets came from simple defensive errors, like Kyle Korver leaving Pau Gasol standing next to the rim just so he could recover onto his man. Utah needs to prioritize protecting the rim first and foremost, and execute that strategy all game.
• The Lakers had success throwing the ball in to their post players, Andrew Bynum and Gasol, who made simple post moves and scored (or dunked). When the Jazz doubled, it too often came slowly or softly. Again, Utah must make it much more difficult for L.A. to score inside, even if it means giving up wide-open perimeter shots. Bynum and Gasol are just too good to be allowed to operate with space.
• Utah's transition defense starts with its bigs getting back, allowing the guards to leave the paint and cover shooters. Carlos Boozer and Jarron Collins are running back, while Gasol and Bynum race.
• When defending Kobe Bryant on ball screens, Utah can get caught with its showing big recovering back before the wing defending Kobe is in position to defend him. This leaves Kobe with a wide-open shot, which cannot be part of the game plan. Staying on him until relieved is the rule.
• Paul Millsap stuck to Lamar Odom a second too long when Gasol and Kobe ran a pick-and-pop, getting to Gasol a second too late. The Jazz have to be hyperaware of where the primary threats are, and when those two guys are in a two-man game set, the other three Jazz players have to be immediately ready to help and rotate in that direction.
• Utah has not shown much of its Flex stuff thus far, but did have some success with it when Korver was in the game. Maybe we'll see more of it in Utah.
• Little can be said for their offense, other than their 21 turnovers. But that is the risk when a team plays so fast and is always applying pressure to its opponents. Seeing them play a bit more methodically on the road would not be surprising.
• Utah still had active hands this game, but failed for three quarters to play physically. When the Jazz did, in the fourth, they played perhaps their best quarter. The Lakers have to be mentally prepared for a much more physical Utah team in Game 3.
• L.A. can still devolve into four guys standing and watching Bryant. This plays into Utah's hands a great deal. The Lakers did not run many triangle actions, instead relying on isos and ball screens, but may look to get comfortable in that triangle system on the road.
• If Utah gets to its Flex sets more, L.A. must identify its top targets and take them out as much as possible. It could be Boozer inside or Korver outside; either way L.A. will have to respond to the strategy laid out by Utah. Defending each "straight up" will not work.
• The Lakers had some success with their press, which they employed on occasion, but need to avoid fouling.
• Utah ran some very high ball screens, with its other three players hugging the baseline. This exposed Bynum, who does not want to show against Williams in all that space. Thus, Williams can get a 3 or attack with speed. He has hurt the Lakers in both games this way. Blitzing is dangerous because if Williams beats both players it's a 5-on-4 or 4-on-3 matchup, which are both huge advantages for the offense. Hedging strongly risks fouling, and going under the screen gives Williams the 3. How L.A. handles this will be interesting.
• Williams must know that he can score big numbers, and might have to if Utah is to win a game. Like Brandon Roy in Game 2 of the Blazers-Rockets series, Williams may have to score 40-plus, and he can.
• Utah was competitive in Game 2 although L.A. shot 60 percent for the game, and that is not likely to happen in Salt Lake City.
• The Lakers look like they actually want to be tested, and may raise their game to another level on the road.
• Kobe is just 1-of-7 from 3-point range, and is +30 for the two games combined.
• Utah did itself proud in Game 2, and its fans will help it play its best game of the series in Game 3. L.A. is the superior team, and seems ready for the challenge. Utah is a very dangerous No. 8 seed, but L.A. is more dangerous at home or on the road.
Prediction: L.A. wins Game 3
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.
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