The Utah Jazz face the Los Angeles Lakers in their season opener Dec. 27. The Jazz have lost 25 of the last 28 meetings in LA including the playoffs, and they look to open their season with a win over the struggling Lakers.
The Jazz are coming off of a tumultuous season that including the abrupt retirement of Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and the trade of All-Star point guard Deron Williams to the Nets. The team finished 39-43 under interim head coach Tyrone Corbin and missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
This team wants to rebound after a down season last year, and it would love to start the season with a victory over the Lakers. Here are three keys to victory for the Jazz.
The Lakers have been a dominant team in the paint in recent years because of their 7' tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. However, Bynum is suspended and won't be playing, leaving the Lakers with Gasol as their only reliable post scorer.
The Jazz must control the paint and the boards.
Utah boasts one of the deepest front courts in the league with Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap, Derrick Favors and rookie Enes Kanter. Mehmet Okur was traded to the Nets.
Favors has shown significant improvement during the preseason, and he can be a solid contributor this season. Jefferson is an excellent post scorer and rebounder, and Milsap does the dirty work in the paint. Kanter is raw but is still a solid defender and good rebounder. These four will have to control the paint and not allow the Lakers to get second chance opportunities on offense.
The guards on the Jazz can also contribute by playing good help defense and grabbing any loose rebounds or wild shots.
Controlling the paint is always one of the major keys to defeating the Lakers because of their height and length.
The Jazz have a major advantage over the Lakers in the departments of youth and athleticism. Devin Harris can run circles around any point guard the Lakers have, and their wings are much younger and ahtletic than any the Lakers can put on the floor, save Devin Ebanks.
The Lakers are an aging team that struggles to keep up with the more athletic teams in the league and the Jazz need to take advantage of that.
Harris is excellent at pushing the ball and scoring on the fast break and the other guards, Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, CJ Miles, Raja Bell, Josh Howard and Earl Watson will get multiple opportunities to score on fast breaks.
They will easily have the advantage in stamina because the Lakers are playing their third game in as many days, and this is the Jazz's season opener.
The Jazz can constantly bring fresh bodies off the bench in the backcourt and frontcourt, while the Lakers have limited options in the frontcourt due to the absence of Andrew Bynum.
Most teams in the league are more athletic than the Lakers and the Jazz are no exception. They will need to take advantage of this in order to come out with a victory.
A good strategy used by Doc Rivers in the 2010 NBA Finals was to not overreact to Kobe Bryant. The Celtics played one on one against Kobe and focused on shutting down the rest of the Lakers' offense. The Jazz would be wise to follow this strategy also.
Kobe has played a lot on his own this season, trying to beat his defender off the dribble or pull up for a jump shot. This clearly shows that he does not have trust in his supporting cast.
No defender can flat out shut Kobe down. The Jazz need to focus on shutting down the rest of the Lakers offense as opposed to focusing solely on stopping Bryant. He will get his points, but if they can limit the opportunities of the rest of the team, it makes the game much more difficult on the Lakers.
The only reliable scoring threat thus far this season other than Kobe has been Pau Gasol. The Jazz need to also focus on him and do their best to shut him down and make Kobe beat them by himself. At this stage of his career, that just isn't realistic anymore.
Should the Jazz use this strategy, it would make the road to victory that much easier.