Russell Westbrook dribbles up the court

Three Things to Know: Lakers vs Jazz - 1/17/22

by Matthew Barrero

On a day the league honors the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Lakers (21-22) are looking to end a three-game skid as they take on the Utah Jazz (29-14) for the first time this season. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. PT on Spectrum SportsNet.

Here are three things to know before tonight’s contest:

The Jazz enter the night as the top offensive team in the league, leading in points per game (115.3), field goal percentage (47.7), two-point FG percentage (57.4), and three-pointers made (15.0).

The Lakers have also been one of the more effective teams offensively, averaging 111.7 points per game (5th in the NBA), hit 46.5 percent from the field (8th), 53.6 on two-pointers (10th, and make about 12.2 three-pointers per game (13th).

L.A. has been especially better at home and has averaged about 4.5 more points than on the road. During their five game homestand, the Lakers averaged 124.4 points and in four wins, defeated their opponent by a margin of +15.5.

Utah has been consistent both on their home court and as the visitors. Their differential in average points at home versus on the road is 1.1 and they currently have the third-best record in the NBA (29-14) and on the road (15-6).

The league has found itself looking like the NBA All-Star Game with scores well above the 100-point margin for both teams involved. The league average points per game is currently 108.4, something both the Lakers and Jazz are used to seeing at the end of their respective contests.

The Jazz have scored under 100 points just three times this season (all losses) compared to the Lakers, who have scored fewer than 100 on eight different occasions (one win).

Despite being on the verge of their 30th victory, the Jazz come in the losers of four of their last five games (defeated Denver last night). The Lakers, meanwhile, are riding a three-game losing streak for the third time this season.

Utah did not have their French big man, Rudy Gobert, in their last five games due to a shoulder injury. In his return in last night’s game in Denver, Gobert promptly recorded a double-double (18 points and 19 rebounds) and helped his team to a 23-point victory over a Nuggets team that defeated the Purple and Gold by 37 points one night earlier.

For the Lakers, stringing together wins has not come easy. Their season-best, four-game win streak from Dec. 31 to Jan. 7, was followed up by their current three-game skid. The team has changed its schemes going with a smaller lineup with LeBron at five but have recently had to switch up their play and bring in Dwight Howard to match the opposing big men.

While L.A. brings a veteran squad night in and night out, Frank Vogel still sees a new group trying to learn the system on both sides of the ball.

“We’re working on it,” Vogel said in Saturday’s postgame. “We’re doing everything we can to get these guys to learn our double-teams, learn each other on the fly. We’re definitely not where we need to be.”

Over the last three games, the Lakers have struggled on the defensive side of the ball and specifically have found difficulties in the middle frames their losses. L.A. has been outscored by a combined second and third quarter total of 220-162 (-58 differential) and have trailed by 13 points in two of those three games.

On average, the Lakers have given up 36.3 and 37.0 in the second and third quarters, respectively (league worsts in both categories during the three-game winless streak).

When asked about a diagnosis for the team’s defensive efforts of late, Dwight Howard emphasized the Lakers needing to have better communication and a stronger paint presence.

“We have to really talk, especially in transition,” Howard said Saturday. “[Denver] killed us tonight in transition. Killed us with points in the paint, even when [Nikola Jokic] was on the outside, the other guys were in the paint. At some point we just have to stand up and fight back.”

As Howard mentioned, the Lakers defense (or lack thereof) inside the paint hasn’t been grand. Over the last three games, L.A. has given up an average of 58.7 points (league worst).

If you want to talk about rock bottom, then the silver lining of seeing bottom means there’s only one way to go from bottom – that’s up.

LeBron made that clear in his tweet yesterday.

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