05 April 2011
With the last of this season's always-intense showdowns with the Los Angeles Lakers upon us, one of my favorite people Phillip Barnett of the TrueHoop Network's Forum Blue and Gold and I traded questions, answers, and barbs. Enjoy, and follow Phil on Twitter at @imsohideous. I promise, if such a thing exists, he's one of the good guys in Laker blue and gold.
PB: If the Jazz have developed one definite strength since the departures of Sloan and Williams, what is it and how can they use it against the Lakers?
TUJB: Nothing to lose. The Jazz have nothing to lose. They can lay it all out there, experiment, as new head coach Ty Corbin has done.
Granted, some of it has to do with injuries, but Corbin has been feeling around a lot for a lineup that clicks, starting no less than 10 different lineups in just 23 games. He's also gone small ball --Devin Harris, Earl Watson, Raja Bell, CJ Miles, and a big-- as well as big ball like he did in the recent first half versus the Lakers, starting Kyrylo Fesenko, Al Jefferson, and Paul Millsap at the 3-spot, the latter is an experiment in the process for potential for next season with Millsap's new-found penchant for a mid-range game.
PB: C.J. Miles had a great first half against the Lakers. What is it that he does that was so tough for the Lakers to defend, and what do you think the Lakers should do to better defend him tonight?
TUJB: The entire Jazz team came out aggressive forcing the ball into the paint in the first quarter, especially Miles. A look at the shot chart shows Miles with a nice cluster of penetration buckets early on in the game. When Miles is instead kept on the perimeter and forced into contested jumpers, as the Lakers' defense began doing from the second stanza onward, Utah's offense stalls out.
The FG% percentages as well as the shot chart bear this out. In the first, Utah shot 50%, the second 33%, the third 37%. The Lakers' defense went into lockdown mode in the paint after the initial bloodied nose they received.
PB: Al Jefferson and Fes did a great job on the boards in the previous matchup. How can they translate their positive rebounding numbers into a closer game and/or win tonight?
TUJB: It's no secret that rebounding has been an Achilles heel for the Jazz this season, so in hindsight what many of us considered an April Fool's Day joke being played on us when Fes starting was first announced instead began to make sense when the Jazz corralled 28 first-half rebounds. That's 72% of the team's usual rebounds claimed for an entire game in a single half. Against the lengthy Lakers no less.
Jefferson and Fesenko collected nearly half of those rebounds on their own, 12 of 'em. They would only nab six more between 'em in the second half. On the flip side, Andrew Bynum had only one first-half rebound, and Pau Gasol four. Bynum would finish out the second half by quadrupling his rebounds, grabbing four, and Gasol five more. Throw in glass-eater Lamar Odom's seven boards since the start of the second period and the Lakers closed the game down only five on the glass, 39-44.
The Jazz netted 15 offensive rebounds in the last meeting. Unfortunately, many of those were due to poor shots in the first place, so Utah needs to have a better shot selection and better ball movement. The Jazz are always at or near tops in assists. Not that time. The Jazz had only 15 dimes as a team, indicating that when they were hot they were hot, but when not...
PB: Any other thoughts about tonight's match up or anything else involving the Lakers and Jazz?
TUJB: The Jazz don't play the role of spoiler very well; they simply have very little experience being in such a position as a franchise. It seems like when they get down, or whenever the opposition starts a comeback run on them they simply sigh and go, "Welp, here we go again. Oh well." They need to develop a sense of confidence somewhere along the way, a purpose. They don't have one right now.
Playing spoiler to a playoff-bound team such as L.A. in the hunt for the top seed against the floundering San Antonio Spurs could go a long toward developing some sort of team unity, a sense that they have a shot together for the future as a team.
CP: We saw Paul Millsap in a new role as a 3 versus Ron Artest in the last meeting. Both are about the same size of player and it was a fun matchup. Does having a meaty guy like Millsap who has a PF mentality concern you in regards to Artest?
FBG: Yes and no. It concerns me because Ron Artest loves to play extremely physical, but most of the time that physical play is on the perimeter against guys who aren't of his physical build. When he has to play the likes of Millsap (and even Danilo Gallinari a couple nights ago) he either picks up cheap fouls or the guy he's guarding shoots at a high percentage. Guys who play physical and move Ron to the paint defensively takes some of the defensive pressure off of the perimeter -- something that has intensified since the All-Star break and deserves as much credit for the Lakers improved D as Andrew Bynum is getting.
On the other hand, Paul Millsap is a guy who has given the Lakers fits in the past and Ron is the most willing physical defender on the Lakers' squad. I don't think he minds the challenge, and if he accepts it as a challenge, the Lakers are guaranteed to have a focused Ron for those 48 minutes.
CP: Pau Gasol gave Al Jefferson fits with his length, but had to play a Lakers'-high 35-plus minutes to seal victory in what turned out to be a blowout. Can the Lakers win playing him less against Utah this time?
FBG: In the Lakers last three games, they came out extremely flat to start out the game, and spent the second and third quarters climbing a ladder they shouldn't have been on to begin with. Last Friday, the Lakers played Utah, in Utah, on the 2nd of a back to back. Tonight, they're playing on a days rest at home, so I'm hoping that they don't allow Utah to force some early turnovers and build up some confidence and energy, putting the Lakers in yet another early hole. With that being said, the Lakers definitely can beat this Utah team with Gasol playing limited minutes, but they have to come out and take care of business early. Synergy stats show that opposing teams are shooting 61% against the Jazz when a player shoots after cutting to the basket -- which means the Lakers have to run the triangle. This is a Lakers team that has a tendency to go 6-7-8 straight possessions with shots taken in isolation situations (and it's not just Kobe). Instead, run the offense through the bigs and have perimeter players moving without the ball. This takes away the long rebounds that will put this fast Jazz team in transition and forces Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to play defense. The Lakers have already shown that they know what it takes to get things done defensively against this new look Jazz squad (only allowing 57 points in the final three quarters), but getting off to a good start is key if they want to get Pau some rest.
CP: Fesenko basically shut down Bynum in the first half of the last game, but didn't play the fourth quarter for whatever reason. Is he a player you, and Kobe, wouldn't care to see in this rematch?
FBG: I'd actually prefer that Fes started again this game. Bynum has really enjoyed showing up and playing against some of the better centers in the league like Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Tyson Chandler, with the way Fes played him last game, it would be interesting to see how he responds this game. Will he make it a personal challenge that he has with some of the leagues other centers, or is he only going to show up against guys with known names? Consistency is something we'd like to see more from Bynum, and he's been a whole lot better with his consistency since the All-Star break in terms of numbers and production, but he isn't consistently fired up to go out and show that he's the best center on the floor every night. Also, Fesenko has a body and plays with the kind of physicality that the Lakers might see a bit of in the playoffs with Kendrick Perkins now on the Thunder and with Memphis' Marc Gasol playing well as of late. Tonight can be an early test for 'Drew to see if he's both physically and mentally ready for the postseason.
CP: How does it feel to have officially knocked Utah out of playoff contention for the fourth consecutive season? Haters!
You can follow Clint on Twitter at @Clintonite33
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