Donovan Mitchell, Jazz Hand LeBron James, Lakers 4th Straight Loss

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2021

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) scores against Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Utah Jazz may play more important games against the Los Angeles Lakers down the line, but they earned temporary bragging rights Wednesday.

Utah defeated Los Angeles 114-89 in a potential Western Conference Finals showdown at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson led the way in a balanced effort for the victors, who are an NBA-best 26-6 overall and 11-1 in the last 12 games.

Solid showings from LeBron James and Montrezl Harrell were not enough for the 22-11 Lakers, who are still without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder and have now lost four in a row.

         

Notable Player Stats

  • Donovan Mitchell, G, UTA: 13 PTS, 10 REB, 8 AST, 2 STL
  • Rudy Gobert, C, UTA: 18 PTS, 9 REB
  • Mike Conley, G, UTA: 14 PTS, 8 AST, 8 REB, 2 STL, 4-of-6 3PT
  • Jordan Clarkson, G, UTA: 18 PTS, 4 REB
  • LeBron James, F, LAL: 19 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST
  • Montrezl Harrell, F, LAL: 16 PTS, 6 REB
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Balanced Jazz Steamroll Lakers in Statement Win

The Jazz can't fully prove themselves to doubters until the playoffs after two straight first-round exits, but handling the defending champions on a national broadcast represented an opportunity to make a statement.

Perhaps it was fitting, then, that the under-appreciated Conley was the best player on the floor for stretches right out of the gates just one day after he was snubbed from the All-Star roster. He immediately caught fire from deep while running the offense and controlling the tempo.

It was far from a one-man show as the Jazz jumped out to a 16-point lead. Clarkson was electric off the bench, Bojan Bogdanovic found his stroke from deep and Gobert controlled the boards.

That Utah had such a commanding lead by intermission against a championship contender even though All-Star Mitchell was just 1-of-8 shooting from the field underscored the team's overall depth.

To Mitchell's credit, he found other ways to impact the game even when his shot wasn't falling. He worked in pick-and-rolls with Gobert and Derrick Favors to create easy looks at the rim for the bigs and battled for boards even from the backcourt.

The effort helped the Jazz continue to roll well into the second half, especially when he connected from deep and got into the lane to bolster his own scoring numbers.

Six players scored in double figures for Utah, which further proved it doesn't have to rely on one or two guys to win every night. There is outside shooting, rim protection, a steady point guard in Conley and a go-to option who can light up the scoreboard or create for others in Mitchell.

The Jazz are a championship contender, and they looked the part Wednesday.

            

LeBron Plays Fewer Minutes in Blowout Loss

There's good news and bad news for the Lakers at this point.

The good news is they know they don't need home-court advantage to win a title after doing so last season at the Walt Disney World Resort. The regular season is just a dress rehearsal for a team that is in championship-or-bust mode and will be much better when Davis and Schroder return.

The bad news is the Lakers look as vulnerable as they have since the playoff-less 2018-19 campaign and are putting plenty of miles on the 36-year-old James' legs. In fact, he entered play averaging 38.2 minutes a night in February after playing 43 in Monday's overtime loss to the Washington Wizards.

Los Angeles could not have been much worse in the early going, especially on the defensive side as Utah connected on open perimeter looks and had plenty of open lanes to the rim.

If there were any silver lining, it was the realization that LeBron wouldn't have to carry as much of the load in crunch time of a blowout.

Even when he was out there for much of the third quarter, the King settled for outside jumpers and didn't exactly press up on opposing ball-handlers or chase anyone down in the open floor. He was still the visitors' best option offensively, though, with a soft touch from mid-range and the ability to overpower defenders to the rim on select possessions.

That was nowhere near enough against the red-hot Jazz, but James at least got to sit for all of the fourth quarter.

         

What's Next?

Both teams are in action Friday when the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers and the Jazz travel to face the Miami Heat.