Deron Williams almost single-handedly ended the Rockets season in his brilliant Game 6 performance against the Rockets. Making sure he doesn’t go off in a similar manner against the Lakers is priority number one for the team. Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar both had solid series against the Nuggets, but it will take a much more concerted effort this time around if L.A. has any hope of slowing down one of the best point guards in the game.
While the Jazz have a decided advantage against the Lakers at the one spot, the Lakers have an ever greater edge at shooting guard. Kobe averaged nearly 30 points against the Jazz during the regular season and L.A. will need him to do the same against them in the Second Round. Second-year guard Ronnie Brewer will get the assignment for Utah, looking to build a successful First Round in which he averaged nine points and four rebounds a game. However, Kirilenko has also spent time guarding Bryant in past contests.
While Okur, like Gasol, is a talented, mobile big man, Pau has raised his game to a whole other level in the playoffs so far. Okur isn’t far behind though after averaging 13 points and a somewhat surprising 13 rebounds a game during the Jazz’ 4-2 series victory over Houston. Without Andrew Bynum in the lineup, Pau is the Lakers’ only true low-post threat, while the Jazz still have Boozer to bang down low if Okur isn’t connecting. As a result, the importance of Gasol has never been greater than it will be in this series.
Power forward is arguably the key matchup in this series as the Lakers will rely on Lamar Odom’s versatility to go against the sheer power of Carlos Boozer. Statistically, the Jazz forward has been much better in the playoffs so far, but Odom’s value doesn’t always lie in his numbers. For the Lakers to be successful against the Jazz’ interior game, they need Odom to assert himself in the paint. More importantly, Lamar must find a way to slow down Boozer on defense—something the Rockets were able to do in stretches during their Game 6 loss.
Although Radmanovic will likely get the start at small forward to open up the series, Luke Walton showed throughout the First Round that he can be as big of a threat at the position as Vladimir. For the Jazz, Andrei Kirilenko will fill the three spot, giving them an agile defender to combat Radmanovic’s superior outside shooting. Similar to Walton’s game, Kirilenko does a little bit of everything on the floor and will likely also spend time guarding Kobe at the two spot too. This particular matchup all comes down to whether or not Walton can sustain the effort he displayed against Denver. If not, the Jazz have the edge at small forward.
The Lakers bench mob was a huge factor in the team’s opening round victory over the Nuggets and will be relied upon even more against a Jazz team that also features a solid group of reserves. Led by mid-season acquisition Kyle Korver, the core of Utah’s bench features veteran big man Matt Harpring, Ronnie Price and Paul Milsap. For the Lakers, Luke Walton’s emergence during the First Round added a whole new dimension to a bench that already showcases the talents of Farmar, Turiaf and Vujacic. While the Lakers were able to slip by Denver without having Ronny at full strength for most of the series, they will need him to step up against Utah if they hope to maintain their bench edge.