Scouting Update: Jazz-Lakers, Game 4
The NBA playoffs are cumulative affairs, rather than mutually exclusive events. What happens in one game carries weight into the next game, from X's and O's strategies and adjustments to confidence and spirit. The Lakers did not play with urgency in Los Angeles, and consequently, the Jazz arrived home convinced they could beat the Lakers. We expected a fight from Utah, and it delivered.
• When L.A. devolves into a stagnant offense, without ball movement, player exchanges or cuts, or post feeds, their offense relies on one-on-one action. And that means if Kobe Bryant is off, they struggle. This is a team that looks so good when they enter balls into the pinch post and play from there. Lakers coach Phil Jackson must be preaching that idea right now.
• In the fourth quarter, with a six-point lead, the Lakers' offensive possessions looked like this for the first 6-plus minutes; seven post- or pinch-post feeds, which resulted in three layups (two made, one missed), five free throws (two made), one turnover and one quick 3-point attempt (missed).
It's realistic to think they should have scored 10 points, but they did score six. In the four possessions that they did not get a post entry, they got a transition three (miss), a forced drive (turnover), a forced shot (missed), and a forced 3 (missed). When Kobe forced another drive but got fouled, with 5:22 left, and made two free throws, it was L.A.'s first points that did not start with a post entry, and by that point, they needed those free throws to tie the game.
• Trevor Ariza made 31.9 percent of his 3-point attempts this year, but took back to back 3s in crunch time in Game 3 and missed both. L.A. may change that option for him in Game 4.
• Just like in Game 2, Jazz forward Carlos Boozer spent a lot of time on offense hanging around the 12-foot mark in the middle of the floor, just waiting for a pass. When the Jazz were able to penetrate and draw attention, he was left unattended, and was Utah's most productive guy. L.A. has to be more aware of Boozer's location and not leave him open, maybe sending someone other than his man to help on penetration.
• Boozer's five offensive rebounds must be addressed as well, as he was able to bump his guy forward on hard rebounds. Lakers center Pau Gasol in particular has to get a lower base and keep his hands up.
• L.A.'s weakside awareness and effort were awful for much of the game.
• Utah had success running help onto Kobe, and Ronnie Brewer did an excellent job of staying in front of him in the fourth quarter. But if Kobe heats up, the Jazz have to be ready to try something different, because he's proved he can carry a team in this situation. However, Utah hopes he tries to do so again, at the expense of getting his teammates involved.
• Andrew Bynum did not play much, but when he did, he stayed back in a contain fashion on ball screens, allowing Williams easy pull-ups. If Bynum plays more, look for Utah to put him in more pick-and-pop actions.
• L.A. likely will pay more attention to Boozer in the middle of the floor, so Utah may have to be more patient before getting him touches. It would be a mistake to only use him as a decoy and just play off of him. He needs touches and opportunities to score, as he creates buckets and draws fouls to L.A.'s bigs. Scoring can energize his rebounding, too.
• If L.A. does get back to its pinch-post action, Utah needs to identify the top scoring targets and start sending helpers in that direction. It's hard when L.A. gets quick ball movements and crisp cuts, but players being aware of their own responsibility and trying to anticipate the action helps.
• Utah outscored L.A. 11-4 in fast-break points, and it's an area they want to win again by pushing pace but only taking good shots.
• Gasol's length helped him grab five offensive rebounds, so keeping him pushed back away from the glass is a good plan.
• Kobe drew lots of attention from Utah and the press with his comments about how the boos and jeers "relax" him. Especially now after playing so poorly. Kobe is the type of guy to respond hugely in this situation.
• Jackson has not pushed his guys too hard, understanding that the playoffs still have weeks and weeks to go. But is he prepared to go home 2-2? Maybe he'll get their attention and get them to play terrific basketball, and if so, can Utah hang with that?
• Deron Williams had a quiet Game 3, until hitting the buzzer beater. He has monster breakout potential.
• Bryant has won only one playoff game in Salt Lake City, a fact the Jazz faithful will use to whip up a special frenzy. Could it drive the Jazz to a season-best performance?
PredictionThis has become almost a toss-up game. Ignoring records, these teams have played very competitive games. Competitive, but L.A. still appears to be superior. The Lakers look like some previous Detroit teams, turning their engines on and off. They have to be on here to get the win.
Prediction: Lakers win Game 4
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.