In his storied coaching career decorated with ten titles and the most playoff wins in NBA history, Phil Jackson has never lost a playoff series when his team managed to win the opening contest. His record is 45-0. Again, 45-0.
So in light of Sunday’s Game 1 loss, I guess the question becomes: What do the Mehmet Okur-less Utah Jazz have to do to break this multi-decade streak?
Point guard Deron Williams, the de facto leader of the Jazz and already one of the NBA’s most outstanding players, has to raise his game to an even higher level and get the rest of Utah’s squad playing like world-beaters if they are going to have a chance in this series. Carlos Boozer must continue to put up big numbers as well. What I like about the Jazz is that the role players showed great toughness against the Nuggets in the first round. They are mentally tough; they understand what their assignments are, and they play off their two stars Willams and Boozer.
The Jazz will need all of the aforementioned cylinders firing to close the curtains on the Lake Show. LA is 34-7 at the Staples Center this year so far, while Utah has played barely above .500 basketball on the road. And Los Angeles was 3-1 against Utah this past season. Their average margin of victory in those three wins was a little under 18 ppg. So if the Jazz are looking for a silver lining from Game 1 despite the typically cloudless LA skies, they might point to their late game lead or even the Lakers’ slim 5-point margin of victory.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum has a small tear in the meniscus of his right knee, but at this point will wait until the conclusion of LA’s season to have surgery to repair it. That leaves Utah’s big men still having to contend with the tandem of long, talented 7-footers Bynum and Pau Gasol. And don’t forget they’ll have to deal with 6-10 Lamar Odom coming off the bench as well. Also Game 1 was the first contest in over a month in which Kobe Bryant shot above fifty percent from the field, which may signal the end of his recent shooting woes. Unfortunately while the Lakers have their star returning to full strength, the Nuggets will enter Game 2 without one of theirs. Although Kirilienko may have felt earlier in the day that he was 50-50 to play in Game 2 after the Jazz shootaround, Coach Jerry Sloan indicated that he will not be playing in tonight’s game.
Any way you add it up, the Jazz have their work cut out for them tonight.
Will Kobe light up the Show or will Deron steal the spotlight? Dick Stockton and I will be joined by Craig Sager on the sidelines to bring you UTA @ LAL Game 2 of the Western Conference Semis on TNT at 10:30 PM ET.