After cruising through a schedule softer than an Erik Spoelstra practice session, the Lakers are finally getting a taste of tougher competition.
Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Lake Show was given its toughest test to date by the Chicago Bulls. That game had a very distinct playoff feel to it. Tonight will be more of the same as the Lakers visit their longtime rivals the Utah Jazz.
Known as one of the most difficult buildings to play in, EnergySolutions Arena hasn’t been as tough a test for the NBA’s best. The Jazz are 5-3 at home with two of those three losses coming to playoff teams. In addition, the Lakers are holding court against the Jazz no matter where they play.
Phil Jackson got a clean sweep in the playoffs last year and his Lakers have won 10 of the last 14 times they’ve played the Jazz.
Still, this is a rivalry game with a long history.
Watching Derrick Rose dominate reminded many of the woes the Lakers have had defending elite point guards. No rest for the weary, in comes Deron Williams. Perhaps the best lead guard in the game, Williams enters Friday’s contest dropping 21 and dishing out 9 dimes per game. While Derek Fisher has had some success slowing Williams, it will take a team effort to contain the former Fighting Illini.
Hopefully the Lakers took advantage of the holiday to get some rest. PJ gave his guys the day off after defeating Chicago. Perhaps nobody needed the time off more than Pau Gasol. Against Joakim Noah and the Bulls Pau was nearly invisible putting up 12 and 11 in his least productive game to date. Logging long minutes early has been a growing concern for Gasol.
Guaranteed to be a raucous crowd, this game will again have a playoff type atmosphere. With three of the next four games on the road the Lakers are looking to keep their rediscovered defensive intensity alive as the schedule begins to build towards the highly anticipated Christmas clash with Miami.