By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted May 1 2010 12:59PM
Kobe Bryant, asked about the impending matchup, said, "No scouting report necessary. For either team. We know their offense inside out, they know our offense inside out, as well as the defense. We've played each other so many times. Including preseason. We're just extremely, extremely familiar with each other."
He is completely, completely correct.
The Lakers and Jazz played in the 2009 first round (L.A. victory), the 2008 conference semifinals (L.A. victory) and had four reunions during the 2009-10 regular season (L.A. 3-1). And just maybe the coaches, players and offenses for each side are pretty established. Welcome to the No Surprise series.
1. What's with Ron Artest? Like there's ever been an answer for that.
2. What's with Ron Artest basketball wise? Playing well on defense, but zero impact on offense when the Lakers can use one.
3. How much is home-court advantage worth? Everything. In each of the five postseason meetings between the long-time rivals, the team that has had it has won.
4. Who is the hottest player in the series? Forget the series. Deron Williams is easily one of the hottest players in the entire league.
5. Should the Lakers put away the ear plugs yet? No. Fans in Oklahoma City became a star of the show, but EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City is no library.
Their offense struggled often against the Thunder, a good defensive team but not so good that Oklahoma City should have been able to take away the inside game and perimeter game with regularity. The Lakers did not hit shots from the outside and too often failed to capitalize on a size advantage to pound the ball inside.
This is their second chance. The injury to Mehmet Okur has forced the Jazz to mostly play small, with Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap getting the bulk of the minutes in a two-power forward alignment even as Kyrylo Fesenko starts at center. Expect L.A. to try to again make Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum a focus of the game plan.
Williams will take possession, charge down court and dare a Laker, any Laker, to stop him. No great surprise, right? Williams is playing great, L.A. is vulnerable to fast point guards, Williams is fast and strong, and welcome to Utah's biggest edge.
In typical Jazz fashion, they are shooting very well and executing the pick-and-roll. They can score from all over, meaning the Lakers have to go from the up-tempo approach of Oklahoma City in the first round to the second round and an opponent that can out-precision them.
Close finishes will be especially great because both teams have two options -- Bryant and Gasol for the Lakers, Williams and Boozer for the Jazz. End-of-game timeouts will be real brain sessions.
As much as the Lakers obviously benefit from extended breaks in the schedule -- there is a three-day rest stop between Game 2 in Los Angeles and Game 3 in Salt Lake City -- the Jazz actually face a greater threat of running on fumes. Because of injuries to Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, Utah is basically playing seven guys. L.A. getting any push from its bench becomes a major plus.
That means you, Lamar Odom, Mr. 41.7 percent in the first round. Coach Phil Jackson called him out as MIA.
What could have been a great series with the Jazz at full strength, especially while putting Kirilenko on Bryant as part of a second-half resurgence for AK-47, still has the chance to be very good. Utah is resilient. Utah just doesn't have the bodies to stay with the Lakers unless L.A. starts handing them countless opportunities. Which is extremely, extremely possible. Lakers in 7.
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