Utah Jazz basketball: Jazz need to kick Lakers while they're down
LOS ANGELES — This past week, Paul Millsap used the word "underachieving" to describe the Utah Jazz's overall performance this season.
If that's the case — and not many would argue against that description of the 11-10 squad — the thesaurus should be consulted to find a much stronger version of underachieving to attach to the Los Angeles Lakers' current campaign.
Inefficaciousness or claudication? Hmm …
Not counting Chauncey Billups' recent acting job, Hollywood hasn't seen a flop of this magnitude since Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck joined forces on the silver screen.
After free-agent star point guard Steve Nash and traded star center Dwight Howard teamed up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and ex-Ron Artest, the Lakers were considered bona fide championship contenders.
Expectations were so high, you would've guessed they'd already have racked up 35 victories by now (yes, in just 20 games).
They haven't, of course.
Instead, their season has registered on the "Gigli"-disaster scale.
Mike Brown was fired as coach after the Jazz pounded the Lakers in Utah, dropping L.A's record to 1-4. Coaching legend and NBA finals ring collector Phil Jackson was then snubbed by the famed franchise in favor of former Knicks and Suns coach Mike D'Antoni.
To go with that inconsistency at the helm, Laker point guards Nash and Steve Blake have been hampered by injuries and the bench has been a bigger miss more than Howard at the free-throw line (47.7 percent).
As a result, losses have piled up for the glitz-and-glamour group like celebrity appearances at Staples Center.
Heading into tonight's 7:30 tipoff against the Jazz, the Lakers have a lousy 9-11 record. Currently, only nine teams in the league have more losses. It's been a rocky ride for bandwagoners who jumped on for parades, not lottery picks.
"The chemistry still isn't there," Jazz guard Earl Watson said of the Lakers. "They're into their third and fourth point guard in the rotation, with the top two being out. That means a lot."
That made Watson quickly think of the Jazz, who are just above .500 but are also in the top eight in the Western Conference despite dealing with newcomers, injuries, inconsistencies and lineup changes.
"(I) think," he said, "it gives us credit for how we can lose players and still compete at a high level. It shows."
Friday was the latest example. The Jazz were without key big men Al Jefferson (back) and Derrick Favors (foot), but they had eight players hit double figures en route to their most dominating performance of the season in a 131-99 rout of Toronto.
That gave the Jazz more momentum as they head back out to the road, where they've struggled to a meager 3-9 record compared to their lofty 8-1 mark at home.
"We need road wins against anybody. They're not going to be easy on their home floor," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We need to get better on the road. We need to get more consistent on the road."
That might explain why Jazz point guard Mo Williams was less than interested in talking about the Lakers, other than to marvel at the fact Bryant surpassed the 30,000-point mark.
"It's not about the Lakers," Williams said. "We just go and try to play Utah Jazz basketball. We don't worry about our opponents. We're just going to play the same way wherever we play."
Jefferson and Favors are game-time decisions tonight after practicing Saturday, but fill-in starter Enes Kanter is fired up to get more action against a team the Jazz beat twice in preseason play and once already in the regular season.
"Lakers are a great team. But we are not scared of anybody. Every interview I say we have enough talent to beat every team on every court," Kanter said after his 18-point, eight-rebound outing vs. the Raptors. "We are not scared of anybody and I believe just when I go out there and fight, fight and give us 100 percent, and I believe we can win."
In the Jazz's favor, they are facing a depleted team that has lost six of nine, starts Chris Duhon at point guard and could be missing big man Pau Gasol because of tendinitis in his knees.
Even so, it's hard to not view the Lakers as a sleeping giant. Corbin respects the talent level — any team with Bryant on it is scary — and believes the Lakers will get it together and become a force, as expected.
"They're a veteran group. You've just got to fear at some point they're going to figure it out," Corbin said. "You can't afford to take them lightly because they can be a dangerous team. … The talent will eventually take over."
As he has his whole career, Williams looks forward to playing in the place he called home for a year and a half.
"The crowd is always good," he said. "You're going to get some Hollywood people in the stands, so you get to sightsee a little bit. It's always fun. I always enjoy it."
Winning there makes it all the more fun. The Jazz did that in their last regular season meeting in L.A., too, winning 103-99 at Staples Center last March.
Whether Utah admits it or not, there's no time like the present for that to happen again.
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