The Lakers long ago sewed up 11th place in the Western Conference standings, with their 34-45 separating them by 7.5 games from any other team. Despite this, they have been putting in some reasonable enough performances of late, though they went down 96-113 against Minnesota on Friday.
Their opponents on Sunday will be a Utah team which has all the reasons in the world to want to win this game. The Jazz, with a 46-33 record, sit in fourth in the west, but they are just 1.5 games ahead of the Nuggets in ninth and could still feasibly miss the playoffs if they lose this game.
Three keys to the game
Rubio’s health – Ricky Rubio played just eight minutes in Utah’s last game due to hamstring soreness, and he is listed as questionable for this game. The point guard has been in good form of late, averaging 27 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists in the two games before his injury, and had nine points and two assists in the first quarter before his hamstring complaint.
Contrasting motivations – The Lakers aren’t going anywhere regarding their finishing place in the standings, and as a result have little reason to be motivated other than pride. In contrast, the Jazz, with games against the Warriors and the Blazers to finish the season, are a legitimate chance to miss the playoffs if things don’t swing their way.
Points in the paint – The Lakers score plenty of points in the paint, with their 52.1 per game the most in the league. Against Utah, however, things won’t be so easy. The Jazz, led by the best defender in the league in Rudy Gobert, concede just 41.7 points per game in this way, less than all other teams except for the 76ers.
Matchup to watch
Julius Randle vs Derrick Favors – Both guys are capable, if not better suited, to playing center in smaller lineups, but will predominantly play at the four against one another in this game.
Randle is a player who has divided opinions, but his recent play has been some of the best of his career. In his past ten games, he is averaging 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists, and showed Utah his versatility when they met earlier in the week with 12 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists.
Favors doesn’t have the toolkit that Randle does, but is an important part of the Jazz’s unit. He is a strong defender and can hold his own at the offensive end of the floor too.
Los Angeles Lakers predicted starting lineup
PG – Alex Caruso | SG – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope | SF – Kyle Kuzma | PF – Julius Randle | C – Brook Lopez
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG – Donovan Mitchell | SG – Royce O’Neale | SF – Joe Ingles | PF – Derrick Favors | C – Rudy Gobert
Gobert was fantastic at both ends of the floor earlier this week against the Lakers. He scored a modest 12 points but also contributed 16 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and three blocks. He is close to averaging a career double-double against them; in 13 such games, he averages 9.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and a huge 3.3 blocks.
The Jazz have only been given a 7.5 point head start in this one, which probably won’t be enough. They have made a habit of beating teams convincingly, and of their last five wins, only one was by less than this margin. Back Utah at the line.
Utah will come out all guns blazing in this game, knowing how important it is to secure a victory. Expect their defensive capabilities to be on full show against the young Lakers, who the Jazz will not allow to score 100 points for the second time this week.
Gobert will be dominant on the defensive end of the floor while Mitchell will run the show at the other end if Rubio isn’t able to get up for the game. Utah will be too good across the floor and will run out 109-97 winners.
The game will be broadcast locally on SPECSN and ATTSN-RM. Tip-off is at 6pm ET.
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