Los Angeles Versus Utah PreviewWestern Conference Second Round
#1 Los Angeles (57-25) vs. #4 Utah (54-28)
Season series: Los Angeles, 3-1
Utah can win if…their physicality and length enable them to control the paint and win their matchups with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and the other Lakers bigs. The Jazz will also need to have a big series from Deron Williams.
Los Angeles will win because… Kobe Bryant is no longer going into gun battles with "butter knives." If teams trap him too hard then Gasol and the perimeter shooters make them pay the price but if teams don't trap Bryant then he will drop 40 or more points on them--and sometimes he will drop 40 or more points on them no matter what they do. Derek Fisher played with Utah last year so he is very familiar with their personnel and their game plans; he will not outdo Williams statistically but he should be able to keep that matchup close enough on most nights that the Lakers will be able to prevail.
Other things to consider: Utah is a tough, physical team that had the best home record in the NBA this season. Williams shined in last year's playoffs and he came up big in crucial moments in the first round series this year versus Houston. Carlos Boozer's offensive game was not sharp versus Houston. It will be interesting to see how L.A. matches up defensively with Boozer and Mehmet Okur; Boozer is ostensibly the power forward and Okur is the center, but Boozer posts up while Okur shoots three pointers, so the Lakers may put Gasol on Boozer and Odom on Okur. The reason I say "may" is that the Lakers played three of their four games versus Utah before they acquired Gasol and Gasol missed the fourth game due to injury, so we can only speculate about how Coach Phil Jackson will deploy his two big men defensively. Although the Houston Rockets were woefully undermanned they still extended the Jazz to six games and when point guard Rafer Alston was healthy the Rockets were generally competitive with the Jazz; Kobe Bryant will be every bit as tough to guard as Tracy McGrady was and Bryant has a lot more weapons at his disposal than McGrady did, so it is difficult to believe that Utah can win this series unless the Jazz play much better than they did against Houston or the Lakers play very poorly and/or suffer an injury to Bryant or Gasol.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:36 AM