They're a proud franchise, a very experienced group of guys, and they don't like how they started off. They're going to be tough. —Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin
SALT LAKE CITY — A lot of Jazz fans had Nov. 7 circled on their calendars — not because it meant the end of those obnoxious election ads, but because the Los Angeles Lakers would be making their one and only appearance of the season in Utah.
It would be their only chance to see Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and their new teammates, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, battle the Jazz here.
But what no one could have imagined is that both the Lakers and Jazz would be 1-3 coming into the game and sitting in fourth place in their respective divisions. But that will be the case when the two Western Conference rivals tip it off tonight (7 p.m.) at EnergySolutions Arena.
While the Jazz are off to a slow start with three straight road losses following an opening-night home win over Dallas on Halloween, the Lakers are off to their worst start in 34 years following a winless (0-8) preseason. They started off the season with three straight losses before finally getting their first win Sunday night against Detroit at home.
As far as the Jazz are concerned, the Lakers are still the Lakers and the Jazz expect to have their hands full, regardless of L.A.'s slow start.
"They're still a good ball club and they're finding their way," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "They're a proud franchise, a very experienced group of guys, and they don't like how they started off. They're going to be tough."
Mo Williams, who played in Los Angeles last year for the "other" team, the Clippers, also expects a typical Laker team.
"They're a good basketball team. If we don't come to play, they'll beat us," he said. "The thing about the Lakers, they always reload. If they're down, they're not going to be there for long. They revamped their roster and they got star power there now."
The Lakers made two big off-season moves in acquiring Howard from Orlando in a four-team trade and signing Nash as a free agent. Some experts figured that would make the Lakers the team to beat in the NBA this year, or at least in the Western Conference.
When the Lakers couldn't win a preseason game, including falling to the Jazz twice in L.A., no one fretted, because, after all, it was just the preseason. But then came consecutive losses to Dallas, Portland and the Clippers to open the regular season, and people starting questioning everything from team chemistry to the new Princeton-style offense implemented by coach Mike Brown.
Bryant has adamantly stood up for Brown and the new offense, telling the world to "shut up," and it's easy to see why. He's averaging 26.8 points on 59.7-percent shooting, including 52.9 percent from 3-point range. His new teammate, Howard, is also thriving in the offense, averaging 23.3 points per game on 68.8-percent shooting, while Gasol is averaging 15. 8 points per game.
One player who hadn't adjusted yet is Nash, who won't play tonight and could be out anywhere from one to four weeks with a leg injury. The former MVP was only averaging 4.5 points and 4.0 assists before suffering a leg injury in the second game.1 comment on this story
With Nash out, Steve Blake will start in his place. In the win over Detroit, he had six points, six assists and tied his career high with five steals. Backing up Blake is Darius Morris, a rookie out of Michigan, who is averaging 6.5 ppg in the two games Nash has been out.
"I thought they'd be awfully good with the veteran experience of those guys that were already there," said Corbin. "With Kobe and Pau and with a healthy Dwight Howard and a healthy Steve Nash, that would make them very potent in the West. Unfortunately for us, they're starting to figure things out."