Scouting update: Jazz-Lakers, Game 5
Utah's best hope to even this series in Game 4 was to combine its excellent play with another poor game from Kobe Bryant, as it seemed likely he would try to carry the Lakers on his back. Just a few minutes into the third quarter, when Kobe hit his 34th point, it looked as though Utah realized its season was dying. Unless the Jazz put forth a tremendous effort in Game 5, their season will be over.
• After working to involve his teammates in the first halves of the series' first three games, Kobe decided to jump-start the Lakers' engine himself. He smartly kept pulling up for his midrange jumper instead of attacking the teeth of the defense. Utah seemed happy about that, as it didn't send a second guy to contest that play. The Jazz worked to make his game harder after he blew up for 10 quick third-quarter points, but at that point, the damage had been done.• When Utah was having great success finding cutters near the rim and just carving up L.A.'s interior defense, it suddenly started shooting jump shot after jump shot. The Jazz lost many opportunities to build their second-quarter lead. • If they weren't settling for jumpers, they were driving all the way to the hole from too distant a starting point. The drive is slower than the pass, so L.A.'s long and tall guys had time to help and impact the finishers. Utah really struggled to score through much of the second quarter until Deron Williams ran off an influence screen and hit a cutting Paul Millsap for the easy layup. An entry pass to Boozer in the paint followed that, also for a hoop. Getting the ball to the paint off a pass, not a dribble, is so key for Utah's offense when Williams doesn't penetrate. • Luke Walton and Shannon Brown sparked L.A. with energy and strength. Utah has to be aware of where it is. • Utah cannot allow Lamar Odom to drive left from a settled spot in the middle of the floor. Even if he can't get the angle, he knows how to use his long arms to take a good shot. • Mehmet Okur had little to offer in his first game back from a hamstring injury and may sit out Game 5. However, if getting a little run will help him get some feel back, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan could try him a little and see whether he could hit a 3 or two. Lakers
• The Lakers did not give Boozer any special treatment during the first half. He was constantly left alone at the elbows. L.A.'s awareness of where Boozer was, especially in terms of its nearest help defenders, was much better in the second half. • L.A. defenders are so concerned about Williams' coming off ball screens that Jazz players are getting uncontested layups from Williams' sharp passes. If inside players continue to leave their man to slow Williams, perimeter guys will have to step in and protect the basket. • The Lakers' big men are too locked in to their help responsibilities. They don't see when their own man slashes to the rim. But they did a better job after halftime, as they inhibited ball penetration while defending their man who was trying to slash. • Utah doubled Kobe when he caught the ball in the post, and L.A. was sometimes slow to bring an extra guy to that side of the floor to be a pressure-release man. Assuming Utah will continue to harass Kobe, L.A.'s weakside players need to be aware of Kobe's blitzes and race to their pressure-release spots. Easy 3s and dunks will be the result, which is why Sloan is reluctant to employ this strategy. • Millsap is much better at blitzing Kobe on ball screens. Using Boozer's or Okur's man in these situations would be smarter. • Lakers coach Phil Jackson likely will warn his team about trying for the knockout punch too early in Game 5. So as good as Kobe was to start Game 4, look for him to go back to Mr. Facilitator at the game's beginning. He'll work to get everyone involved and slowly build a lead.
• Williams may try to take a page out of Kobe's book and look to do even more than he has done before. He's been outstanding, but he needs to be more than that. Can he put up at least 13 points and 13 rebounds in L.A. to avoid elimination? Lakers
• Odom has been the X factor all series and has put together very good all-around games.
PredictionUtah gives L.A. some matchup problems and some strategic ones, but the Lakers have too much firepower and can elevate their defensive efforts to special levels. With a chance to end the series and earn a little rest, it's hard not to expect another strong game from the No. 1 seed. Predictions: Lakers win game 5
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 have included Kevin Martin, Rob Kurz, Luol Deng, Courtney Lee and Tyrus Thomas. To e-mail him, click here.