Lakers - Jazz Round 1 Recap
L.A.’s goal against a tough Utah Jazz team that certainly wasn’t only the 8th best team in the Western Conference was simple: Get it done as soon as possible.
After winning the first two games in Los Angeles rather easily, the Lakers dropped a tight 88-86 decision in Salt Lake City before an emphatic Game 4 win that came on the back of Kobe Bryant’s 38-point performance. With that, L.A. had the chance to clinch at home in Game 5, and clinch they did, sending the Jazz home for the season and earning themselves at least five days off before facing the winner of Houston – Portland in Round 2.
Until then, here are links to the running diaries and postgame reports for each of the five games, a player-by-player breakdown and status update and Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko’s thoughts on the Lakers.
GAME-BY-GAME RUNNING DIARY/POSTGAME REPORT
Series: In just under 30 minutes, Derek Fisher averaged 9.4 points on 43.8 percent from the field with 3.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.2 turnovers. He shot 31.3 percent from three-point land (5-of-16) and made 82.4 percent of his free throws (14-of-17). Defensively, Fisher did about as good a job as could have been expected on arguably the game’s best point guard, partnering with Shannon Brown to limit Williams to 20.2 points and 10.8 assists.
Status: Thanks to some effective backup play from Brown, Fisher didn’t have to spend too much energy, playing over 30 minutes only once, in game three (38). L.A.’s oldest player will now get an additional five or six days to fully heal what already appears to be a completely healthy body.
Series: Stepping up his minutes to the tune of 40.8 per game, Bryant averaged 27.4 points, 5.6 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 steals on 47 percent shooting from the field. Bryant made only 3-of-13 three pointers before hitting 3-of-4 in Game 5, and connected on 35-of-39 (89.7 percent) of his free throws. Bryant was a terrific facilitator while combining for 17 assists in L.A.’s first two wins, and turned in the individual performance of the first round by putting the Lakers on his back and nailing 16-of-24 shots to deliver a Game 4 victory in Utah. Defensively, Bryant effectively limited his man pretty consistently, and had at least two steals in each game thanks to some active hands off the ball. He was clearly the MVP of the series.
Status: Playing 40 minutes a game didn’t seem to bother Bryant in the least, unless you believe fatigue had something to do with his Game 3 struggles from the perimeter (5-of-24). In L.A.’s four wins, Bryant couldn’t have been much better from an all-around sense, though having a week without a game will certainly help him cool down his well-used knees and ankles leading into Round 2.
Series: Outstanding at home and less so on the road, Trevor Ariza averaged 12 points, 4.2 assists, 4.0 boards and 1.0 steals in 31.8 minutes per game in a starting role. He shot the lights out at STAPLES Center, nailing 77 percent of his FGA’s, including 8-of-11 threes, and shot 61 percent both from the field and from three in the series. His defense proved effective for the most part, highlighted by a key steal and resulting three-pointer late in Game 4.
Status: Ariza tweaked his ankle in pre-game warm-ups in Salt Lake City prior to Game 4 when he landed on Josh Powell’s foot, but he not only played through Game 4 but excelled in Game 5, amassing 12 points, seven boards, four assists and two blocks. Apparently, the ankle’s just fine, but an extended rest can only help.
Series: Playing 36.4 minutes with two starts, Odom averaged 17.8 points, 11.0 boards, 2.4 assists and 1.6 blocks. He shot 62.7 percent from the field (37-of-59) and even made 5-of-10 threes (50 percent), though he did struggle at the free throw line (10-of-17, 58.8 percent). Still, if not for Kobe Bryant, Odom would have been the easy choice for series MVP. He was terrific not just with his numbers, but with his defensive rotations and ability to expose mismatches with the Jazz. Andrew Bynum barely contributed in the series, but Odom made that a moot point.
Status: Odom didn’t appear to be slowed by any sort of injury, and played 41 minutes in both road games to total 29 rebounds, seven assists and 31 points. His super athletic body doesn’t generally appear to need rest. Heading back to the bench wasn’t a problem mentally for Bynum when Odom did it in the regular season’s final four games, and won’t be in the second round.
Series: The Barcelona native averaged 18.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 58.6 percent from the field, though he hit only 64.9 percent of his foul shots in 38.6 minutes per game. His shot blocking improved from his regular season average, including two crucial Game 2 blocks in the final minute, though generally speaking his defense may have suffered from tired legs. Status: Perhaps nobody was more happy than Gasol to close the Jazz out in five games, as the Spaniard’s been carrying a big load all season, and had done the same for the Spanish National team throughout the summer. Though plagued by no specific injuries, Gasol’s legs looked just a bit heavy at times against Utah. In other words, it’s bad news for Houston or Portland that he’ll be resting all week.
Series: The big center played only 15.4 minutes per game, including a total of 14 minutes in Utah, to average 5.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks. His best game came in 31 Game 2 minutes, resulting in 10 points, four boards and four blocks, though Bynum battled foul trouble in games one and three and barely played in four and five due to matchup problems.
Status: Clearly, Bynum is L.A.’s biggest question mark heading into Round 2. His teammates have universally supported him and suggested that a week’s worth of practice will help him regain his rhythm, and Phil Jackson has already said that Bynum will start against either Houston or Portland, both of which boast big centers (Yao Ming, Joel Pryzbilla and Greg Oden). His knee didn’t appear to outwardly bother him as much as fatigue, though he complained at times about his bulky knee brace. Nevertheless, Bynum almost won’t have a choice but to contribute in the next series, since neither team is apt to go small for too long.
Series: Brown averaged 7.2 points, 1.8 assists, 1.2 boards and 0.80 steals in 17.4 minutes, buoyed by 66.7 percent shooting from three that’s actually misleading as he made 6-of-7 in the first four games. Almost out of nowhere, the man who came to L.A. from Charlotte turned himself into a key contributor for the Lakers, a combo guard whose defense of bigger point guards and knock-down open shooting really helped the Lakers beat Utah.
Status: Fully healthy, fully athletic and not to worry about. He probably doesn’t want any rest.
Series: It was a frustrating individual series for Farmar, who played a total of only eight minute and received three DNP-CD’s after four minutes apiece in games one and two. Basically, Phil Jackson decided that Brown matched up better with the bigger Deron Williams, and particularly since Brown was contributing on offense as well, was resigned to keep Farmar on the bench.
Status: Jackson mentioned on more than one occasion that he didn’t like keeping a player of Farmar’s talent on the pine, and that the team would need him in the future rounds. Houston has a small, super-quick point guard in Aaron Brooks, while Portland runs with Steve Blake, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see a well-rested Farmar in Round 2. Finally, if you recall, Farmar was suffering from some foot tendinitus towards the end of the regular season, but said he’s just fine at this point.
Series: In 15.4 minutes per game, Vujacic averaged only 3.6 points and 2.6 boards with 1.0 steals on 20.7 percent shooting, and 33.3 percent from the field. He did, however, pick things up in games four and five, going for 15 total points that all came on three-pointers. He played a series-high 24 minutes in Game 5 with Luke Walton sidelined with an injury as Kobe Bryant moved over to the three.
Status: Vujacic serves as the most likely recipient of extra minutes in Luke Walton’s absence, since Phil Jackson’s more likely to slide Bryant or Lamar Odom over to the wing. After battling ankle problems all year, Vujacic appears to be fully healthy, and can not only get hot in an instant, but also is more than capable of hitting clutch shots. He’ll surely be called upon in Round 2.
Series:Limited to six minutes per game and two DNP-CD’s, Powell averaged 2.7 points and 1.0 rebounds. He was limited by being the fourth big man for a team that only played two guys big minutes, with Andrew Bynum also seeing limited time.
Status: Fully healthy with a soft jumper and toughness in the paint, Powell can be counted upon to play minutes and not hurt the team.
Series: Walton played limited minutes in L.A.’s first three games and averaged 12 for the four in which he appeared, saving his best for a solid Game 4 that featured nine points, five boards, three assists and three steals in 18 minutes before he hurt his ankle. His ability to move the ball on offense and get in passing lanes on defense (Bryant says Walton has “very active hands”) can be a big and unique boost off the bench.
Status: Walton’s L.A.’s only injury question mark heading into the second round after partially tearing his deltoid ligament. He will be re-evaluated a week from the injury to see what kind of progress has been made, and said he “absolutely” will play.
Series:Did not play.
Status:Mbenga’s last action was April 7 against Sacramento, a true victim of low post depth. You never know, however, if he’ll be used against Portland or Houston, both of whom share L.A.’s depth down low.
Sun Yue, Adam Morrison
Series:Did not play.
Status:Neither should be expected to play in the second round, though Morrison stands a slight chance if Walton remains out for longer.
Opponent Exit Interview
Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko stood face-to-face with the Lakers for the better portion of two weeks, and sat down with us in Utah’s locker room prior to Game 5 to offer us a few thoughts on how an opponent views the L.A. Lakers.
MT: On how regardless of L.A.'s other talents, it's still about Kobe:
Kirilenko: It's a huge bonus to have three outstanding big men, but definitely, the number one threat is Kobe Bryant. He's the biggest weapon. But Odom, Gasol and Bynum, those three really present a lot of problems because of their length. For us to win a game we have to focus on having them play outside rather than inside.
MT: On the best way to beat the Lakers:
Kirilenko: We had some pretty good stretches against the Lakers this series, and I think if you concentrate on forcing them outside - don't let them use Bynum or Gasol inside - then they start relying on Kobe. It didn't work in Game 3, and it did in Game 4, but my point is to put the game in one man's hands rather than the team's, because when they play as a team it's almost impossible to beat them - everyone starts scoring from every position. But if it's a one-man game, you can double-team and other guys might not be as confident. So in the first two games, Kobe was active, but he was involving everyone else, and it was extremely tough. Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, all getting open shots and making us pay. But it was mostly Kobe in (Utah). It's our goal to put Kobe in that position as the only guy who is carrying them.
MT: On entering the starting lineup to guard Trevor Ariza in games three and four:
Kirilenko: I was just trying to be active, and of course the main attention is still devoted to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The scenario of the game was a little different, so I think (Ariza's lack of involvement on offense) was more team deserved than it was for me personally.
MT: On what can be done when Bryant's hitting like he did in game four:
Kirilenko: There's not much you can do when he starts making those jump shots. If you stay close, he'll start driving. If you back off, he'll hit those shots. All you can do is get in his face and try to contest as much as possible ... And pray that he's going to miss. That's the only thing, you know?
MT: On if Bryant were doing anything different in games three and four:
Kirilenko: Not much. I think Ronnie Brewer did a great job staying in his face in both games, he just started making shots. I think in that kind of situation when a player gets hot, you have to double team him, but I think we started doing it a little bit late. We should have tried to get the ball out of his hands a little earlier, but that's how it goes.
MT: On if the Lakers came as advertised:
Kirilenko: They're what we expected. They played great in the regular season, finished with the league's second-best record. They play a great style of basketball, and with the addition of Pau, having Bynum improve and Lamar coming off the bench it's really made the team very deep and it's hard to play them. They definitely have a great mix of young guys, veterans, guys who know how to play basketball and are talented, and I don't need to represent Phil Jackson. I think they are a great team with great tools, and you can't afford to make any mistakes or be out of focus against a team like that.
MT: On if he thought about what could have been with a healthy team that may not have met the Lakers until later in the postseason:
Kirilenko: You can't count on health, someone could just get injured in the playoffs. Sure, we were unfortunate to lose Mehmet (Okur) before the playoffs, but it's our fault. We can't blame anybody else. We lost a few games that we shouldn't have against Golden State, for example, and that's only our fault.