Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan told the Salt Lake Tribune’s Ross Siler that Mehmet Okur would miss his third consecutive playoff game with a hamstring strain, while Andrei Kirilenko would replace Kyle Korver in the starting lineup to try and better deal with the suddenly on-fire Trevor Ariza.
The news on Okur isn’t much of a surprise, but that Sloan would make an adjustment at least in part to deal with Ariza’s offense is quite a revelation. L.A.’s defensive-minded starting small forward was really struggling with his shot before nailing 13-of-16 in his first two playoff games, including 6-of-7 three pointers.
The stats suggest as much: In April, Ariza made just 3-of-16 three pointers in eight games, which translates to 18.8 percent shooting, after he’d shot close to 34 percent from January through March. From the field overall, Ariza made 42.9 percent of his shots in April, just over half as good as his 81.3 shooting percentage in the playoffs. That’s quite a difference, but one could ask how he could possibly keep that up? Accordingly, as Utah devotes more attention to him, won’t it simply create more space for L.A.’s other four starters, each of whom is a better known scorer than Ariza?
“It definitely opens up the rest of the offense,” said Ariza after Thursday’s shootaround. “It gives ‘Drew, Pau, Kobe, Fish and L.O. (Lamar Odom) one-on-one opportunities to do what they can do and show their talents.”
Kirilenko, however, does give his team something the sweet-shooting Korver couldn’t.
“He’s a great shot blocker, particularly from the weak side, so that’s going to alter our awareness a bit depending on where he is on the floor,” said Bryant.
Ariza added that the Russian is a good passer who “Makes plays, gets in there and gets rebounds so you have to box him out and be aware of where he is at all times.”
Needless to say, the Jazz will need Kirilenko to do all that and more if Utah’s to get past the Lakers, particularly without Okur … Even in Salt Lake City.