By: Travis Rodgers
Playoff Matchup: Round Two
Without Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, the Lakers still breezed through the Denver Nuggets in four games, frustrating with timely defense and huge shots by a variety of players. The Utah Jazz took six games to eliminate a Houston team that was without Yao Ming. The teams meet on LA's home court for the first two games. There is added tension to this playoff matchup. Derek Fisher is seen by some Jazz fans as a deserter, inexplicably, after he left the team to pursue superior treatment for his daughter's medical condition.
LA Lakers 2008 playoff stats Season Stats vs. Utah
PG Derek Fisher 8.5 points, 2.5 assists, 3.5 boards 10.8 pts, 4.3 ast, 2.0 reb
SG Kobe Bryant 33.5 points, 6.3 assists, 5.3 boards 29.8 pts, 5.0 ast, 5.5 reb, 2.0 stl
SF Vlad Radmanovic 8.3 points, 2.8 assists, 4.5 boards 8.5 pts, 1.0 ast, 2.8 reb, 1.3 stl
PF Lamar Odom 11.8 points, 4.5 assists, 9.3 boards 15.0 pts, 4.7 ast, 8.0 reb
C Pau Gasol 22.3 points, 5.0 assists, 9.0 boards, 2.8 blocks 11.0 pts, 1.0 ast, 4.0 reb
6th man: Luke Walton 14.0 points, 3.8 assists, 5.0 boards 6.3 pts, 4.3 ast, 4.3 reb
Utah Jazz 2008 playoff stats Season Stats vs. Lakers
PG Deron Williams 20.8 points, 8.5 assists, 2.7 boards 23.3 pts, 6.5 ast, 3.3 reb
SG Ronnie Brewer 9.3 points, 1.3 assists, 4.2 boards 14.8 pts, 2.5 ast, 2.0 reb
SF Andre Kirilenko 9.3 points, 2.0 assists, 4.0 boards 14.5 pts, 4.3 ast, 5.5 reb
PF Carlos Boozer 16.0 points, 2.7 assists, 11.7 boards 22.0 pts, 3.7 ast, 12.7 reb
C Mehmet Okur 13.2 points, 1.7 assists, 12.7 boards 9.0 pts, 2.7 ast, 6.7 reb
6th man: Kyle Korver 7.2 points, 0.5 assists, 1.7 boards 5.5 pts, 2.0 ast, 2.5 reb
Utah has two specialists. Deron Williams isn't a great defender, but his offensive game is one of the most impressive for any guard in the NBA. He is a legit 20/10 threat any night and is likely to put up a 30-point game here and there, even in the playoffs. Ronnie Brewer, although he has had some success against the Lakers, is much more a defensive specialist. He has guarded Kobe Bryant quite well for stretches. On the other side of the ball, Derek Fisher looks to do his best to slow Deron and wear him down, but Deron is a big boy. Deron wins that matchup big time (until crunch time). Kobe Bryant plays the best all-around game in the NBA and should dominate Brewer.
Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol will probably play one another a bit. That should be a lot of fun to watch. One is very powerful, one is very much a finesse player. Both are very good. I think the two cancel one another out. It comes down to Radmanovic and Odom against Kirilenko and Okur. While I think Odom is the best of those four, I think Vlad is the worst. This will be a matchup that has to be decided every time the teams step on the court. There is no clearly better group.
Utah has a fair number of solid bench players, with Jason Hart (solid defender), Morris Almond (good scorer), Matt Harpring (very tough defender, good shooter) in addition to the sharpshooting Korver. The Lakers have Luke Walton (suddenly a playoff hero), Sasha Vujacic (tough defender, good shooter), Jordan Farmar (high energy offensive player). Hopefully, some of their other bigs will begin to show up. They are going to need them.
Jerry Sloan has won 1089 regular season games (.603), 91 playoff games (.503), has taken his team to Conference Finals twice in his coaching tenure. He has never won a championship. Only three of his previous 17 playoff teams have won double digit games. He is a defensive-minded coach who does a very good job developing young, tough defensive players. Phil Jackson just notched his 183rd playoff win (.704), is 9/10 on advancing his teams from the Conference Title Game to the actual Championship. Only five of his 17 playoff teams have FAILED to win double digit games.
The two most interesting players to watch will be Deron Wililams, who can cut through LA's defense with ease, and Pau Gasol, who has traditionally taken it to Utah. His one game against them this season looks to be an anomaly. His ability to rebound and score in the post will be key to LA's chances of success.
The Lakers must not be complacent. That is a bit tough given that they have handled Utah repeatedly, swept their first round opponent, and have some relatively inexperienced players starting for them. I fear they may lose a game in LA, but will put away the series in six games as they become focused as they close on the prize.