Things To Know: Jazz

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What You Already Know:
To say the Jazz have struggled after a strong start is an understatement as Jerry Sloan’s squad is in the midst of a downward spiral that has them on the outside looking in on Western Conference’s top eight. Since beginning the season at an impressive 12-5, the Western Conference runner-up has lost nine of 12 games to bump its overall record down to a mediocre 16-14.

Led by long-time Coach Jerry Sloan, the Jazz are usually unfazed by one or two losses, drawing on Sloan’s stern disposition to shake off defeat and focus only on one game at a time. However, for whatever reason, this season, the Jazz have been unable to fight through adversity, already the owners of a six game losing streak.

The Lakers and Jazz have split their two games this year with each team exchanging wins on their respective home courts. The Lakers were first at it in November, beating the Jazz 119-109 behind Kobe’s 33 points and Derek Fisher’s 19 against his former teammates. The Jazz got quick revenge three weeks later, trampling L.A. 120-96 despite the absence of Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer due to injury.

What You Might Not Know:
Although the Jazz’ scoring is up, they have been much less productive this season on defense, despite the return to form of Andrei Kirilenko. Specifically, Utah has struggled inside after Mehmet Okur was rendered inactive from injury. Okur’s ineffectiveness is one of the biggest reasons why Utah has found hard times the past month, with his scoring average decreasing by almost six points from last year’s 18 per game. Mehmet’s rebounding numbers are also down, to only five a night for the 6’11” starting center.

Even when the Jazz were playing well to open up the season, their record was buoyed by an easy first month schedule. In fact, of the Jazz’ 16 wins, only seven have come against teams currently sporting a record over .500.

Stockton-Malone has essentially been reincarnated in Salt Lake; Carlos Boozer is quietly having a career year for the Jazz, with increases in almost every major statistical department. Boozer is putting up almost 25 points a night to go along with 12 rebounds and three assists. The same can be said for up-and-coming point guard Deron Williams who followed up his successful sophomore campaign to post averages of 20 points and nine assists a night.

What You Need To Know:
Lakers point guard Derek Fisher left the Jazz this past summer to find superior medical treatment for his cancer-stricken daughter. However, his decision to leave Salt Lake City for Los Angeles left a sizeable gap in veteran savvy and at shooting guard for the Jazz. Fisher has enjoyed one of his best statistical years to date so far this season, making the loss even harder to swallow for Utah. This is complicated by the fact that the Jazz already have no one to match up against Kobe at shooting guard as Bryant has gone off on the in each of their two meetings this year, averaging over 30 points.

Deron Williams has shredded the Lakers defense in each of the teams’ first two games against each other, easily piling up 28 points and 35 points. L.A.’s point guard duo of Fisher and Farmar has responded well with Farmar scoring 12 points in the first matchup and another 21 in the Lakers defeat in Utah. However, the Lakers need lockdown defense out of the point guard spot in Friday’s game, not necessarily scoring.

Lamar Odom was virtually nonexistent in the L.A.’s last game against the Jazz, only throwing up five field goal attempts en route to seven points and four rebounds. The Lakers need Lamar’s lanky frame to contribute much more against Jazz defenders with a more pronounced inside-outside game (courtesy of Bynum) that should create mismatches on offense for Odom.

Like the Lakers, Utah turns the ball over at an unusually high rate with both teams throwing it away 16 times per contest. In other words, Friday’s winner may very well be determined by the team that is able to take care of the ball more effectively.