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Defense looks the part as Lakers sweep tough back-to-back
There are statement wins, and then there’s what the Lakers did in Utah on Wednesday.
With several players under the weather and playing on the second night of the toughest back-to-back in the NBA, Frank Vogel’s squad put on a defensive clinic – silencing the Jazz to remain undefeated away from STAPLES Center.
A lot of statistics will help illustrate the magnitude of this impressive early December victory, but a single play can probably sum it up just as easily:
Early in the third quarter, with the Lakers already nursing a double-digit lead, Anthony Davis added this multiple-efforts block to his DPOY highlight reel.
Bojan Bogdanovic, one of the deadliest shooters in the NBA, thought the danger had passed as AD almost flew into the first row. He was wrong. By a lot.
That was just one of the 12 blocks the Lakers had on a night when they kept Utah to just 34 points in the paint – 10 below their season average. AD had 3 of them, and so did Dwight Howard and Kyle Kuzma.
And it wasn’t just a block party. L.A. had 13 steals as well, leading to a season-high 25 ‘stocks’.
“We can accomplish anything we want if we keep our minds on the prize which is the championship," Howard said. "Every night we step on the floor we want to have fun but we have to keep in mind that we’re trying to win a championship. We have to have that mentality every time we make a play. Defense, offense, on the bench. Championship mentality.”
The area around the Lakers basket became piranha-infested waters, with only Donovan Mitchell (29 points on 24 shots) being able to generate some offense for himself.
Davis was just as instrumental on offense, dropping a very effective 26 points on 9-for-11 from the field against one of the better defenses in the league. So much so that he watched the entirety of the fourth quarter from the bench.
Rudy Gobert and Co. had no answer for him or the rest of the offense for that matter, as the purple and gold shot 51.1% from the field, including a scorching-hot 14-of-29 from beyond the arc.
The Lakers also ran them out of the building with a 32-5 advantage on the break, a key aspect in dealing the Jazz only their second loss at home in 2019-20.
And they did it by quickly recovering from an 11-3 deficit and finishing the first quarter without turnover – a sign of things to come as they would finish with a season-low 8.
By the end it was fun all around, with LeBron James (20 points and 12 assists) gifting a pair of sneakers to some young Laker fans in the stands and Howard draining a corner three-pointer, his 7th in 1,066 career regular season games.
“I didn't even look at the rim,” Howard said with a smile. “As soon as I let it go, I knew it was going in.”
The team competed until the final buzzer, with a vicious double block by Kuzma and three steals in the last 2:35 to put the finishing touches on arguably the most impressive performance of the season.
“We just have a high ceiling,” Vogel said. “We have a chance to be great.”
So much for strength of schedule skepticism.
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