Alex Caruso and Donovan Mitchell

Lakers at Jazz, Three Things to Know: Feb. 24, 2021

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Lakers (22-10) head to Utah (25-6) for a 7:00 p.m. tip off on Spectrum SportsNet as Los Angeles looks to snap a 3-game losing streak.

Below are three things to know in advance of the matchup:

UTAH’S STRONG START
While the Jazz were projected as a clear Western playoff team heading into this season, few analysts had them as the No. 1 seed with five games to go before the All-Star break. Utah has had several things going for them, and nothing more than ideal continuity both in terms of roster carryover from last year, plus health and availability.

In their 1st Round playoff loss to Denver last year (4-3), seven players received almost all of the minutes: Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neal, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley and Georges Niang. In the regular season, Bojan Bogdanovic played the third most minutes on the team before getting hurt ahead of the playoffs. All eight are back for this season. O’Neale, Bogdanovic and Gobert have started all 31 games, and Mitchell 29, plus Conley 25 (just back from a hamstring strain). Clarkson and Niang have played all 31, and Ingles 27. That’s left just one rotation spot for a newcomer … and … it’s Derrick Favors, who couldn’t be much more familiar with Utah, having played there for nine years prior to a one-year deal in New Orleans last season. And so, it’s nine players who now exactly how to play together, and for an excellent coach in Quin Snyder who’s in his 7th season in Salt Lake City.

Furthermore, it’s a veteran team, with the 24-year-old Mitchell the youngest player getting any minutes, and he’s in his 4th season. The mix of experience, talent, cohesion and consistency has gone a long way for Utah in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lakers had experienced similar health prior to AD’s injury, though they haven’t have the same continuity as they’ve been working five key rotation players into the

LAKERS WITHOUT THEIR JAZZ KRYPTONITE
Unfortunately for the Lakers, they’ll be unable to go to the lineup for which Utah had no answer in the 2019-20 regular season, when L.A. went 3-0 against the Jazz with the following results:

Oct. 25: 95-86
Dec. 4: 121-96
Aug. 3: 116-108

The aforementioned lineup was, of course, the “small” group with Anthony Davis at the 5. Davis was terrific on both ends, but he was also able to pull Gobert out on the perimeter and open up the lane for LeBron, who dominated the first two games with a +17 and a +14 before helping AD go off for 42 points with 12 boards, four assists and three steals in the Bubble matchup. Things will be quite different in this game without AD. While Marc Gasol can try and pull Gobert out some, Utah may be content to let Gasol fire away from the perimeter, as he averages only 3.6 shots per game, and 2.3 3’s; Gobert may just try and camp out in the paint and try to deter LeBron drives. As such, we could see more Markieff Morris, which can help LAL’s spacing considerably on offense, but leave them vulnerable to Gobert rolls to the rim on the other end. And that, of course, speaks to AD’s value, as the rare player who can kill actions on both ends.

KCP GETS GOING
One encouraging sign for the Lakers in their last two games has been the play of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who looks to be getting back to his typical level on offense after an extended stretch where he struggled. KCP scored 21 points on 8 of 15 FG’s and 4 of 8 3’s against Washington, and 11 points on 3 of 5 3’s vs. Miami after eight games in which he failed to hit more than one three.

KCP has been an Iron Man for the Lakers since joining the squad in 2017, and no more than last year’s marathon, when he played a team-high 69 games, plus 21 playoff games, then had just the two months off before this regular season started. He acknowledged that some level of fatigue – whether mental or physical – has settled in for himself and the team in the last few weeks, and has been fighting through it. Alas, KCP’s return to form can be a spark for the Lakers as they play what’s hopefully their last game without Dennis Schroder, who could be back on Friday.

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