Round 1 Riot: (1) Lakers vs. (8) Jazz
FanHouse previews the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
The Lakers versus the Jazz was a competitive and physical second round series a season ago, but this year it looks to be (on paper) one of the most lopsided matchups of the first round. So what's changed? Well, while the Lakers have gotten better with the return of Andrew Bynum, injuries and a lack of continuity have sent the Jazz limping to the finish line.
Reason to Watch
The Lakers have been waiting for the playoffs to start for quite some time, and while the Jazz may not be what they once were, they still have two qualities that should give L.A. a nice, early-round challenge: Utah plays physical, and they have an incredible home court advantage. The former should prepare the Lakers for a series against a Cleveland or a Boston down the line, while the latter should hopefully give them some experience playing in the more hostile arenas out West -- like, say, Portland for example.
How L.A. Can Win
The Lakers are heavy favorites to win this series, so they should be able to win by just doing what they do: sharing the ball on offense, playing aggressive team defense, and -- this one's important -- getting strong play off the bench, to protect some of the early (and inevitable) leads that the starters are going to be able to secure.
How Utah Can Win
This one's a little more complicated. The Jazz will need Deron Williams to break down the Lakers defense over and over again, in order to create easy looks for his teammates. They'll need Carlos Boozer to play more like Paul Millsap, which he hasn't been able to do all year. They'll need to take advantage of the fact that they're likely get to the free throw line a whole lot more than the Lakers. And, they'll need to steal a game in Los Angeles, while winning all three of their contests at home.
Video Clip to Get You Pumped
Sure, the clips of Jazz fans throwing stuff on the floor in the past, or the controversial no-call from last year's playoff series would likely get your heart pumping a little more than this one. But neither showcases how the Jazz might be able to win this year better than the end of their regular season win over the Lakers back in February.
Pau Gasol cheats on defense, and leaves Mehmet Okur wide open for a three-pointer. Then with plenty of time left, Kobe Bryant forces up a long three of his own, while fading away with a man in his face. The games in Utah are likely to be just as close and come down to the final couple of possessions; the Lakers would be wise to watch this over and over again and learn from these mistakes.
Stud of the Series
Lamar Odom. His ability to create opportunities for the bench unit and stabilize them when things get tight are going to be huge for the Lakers in this series, and any others that they're fortunate enough to play in this postseason.
The Lakers' bench. If Odom lives up to the Stud status I just granted him, it shouldn't be that much of an issue. But he has a tendency to disappear at times, and with Trevor Ariza now in the starting lineup, someone else is going to have to play big alongside Odom on that second unit. Sasha Vujacic? Shannon Brown? Luke Walton? Jordan Farmar? Exactly.
Not surprisingly, the top-seeded Lakers were the unanimous choice in our first-round predictions. Since an eighth-seeded team has toppled a one seed only twice in NBA history, no one's going out on that much of a limb -- especially against this Lakers team.
I do think it will be a more difficult series than it appears, however, and I like the Jazz to get one, possibly two games on their home court before all is said and done. But officially, I'm only predicting they get one: Lakers in 5.