Andrew Bynum’s health really, really matters here.
As of a few hours before Game 1, he is scheduled to play — and start — but if he is for some reason unable to play at least close to his normal minutes in this series (because of a recent, small meniscus tear) then Utah might have a shot at knocking off Los Angeles. Otherwise, the Pau Gasol/Bynum/Lamar Odom/Ron Artest front line will just be too big, too long and too punishing for Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and the Kyrylo Fesenko/Kosta Koufos two-headed “monster” to handle. There is also talk of Andrei Kirilenko practicing tomorrow, so if he can come back this series and play effectively, that would help.
With all these variables, it’s hard to be certain about anything, but I would expect the Lakers to grind this one out regardless. They play great defense when they want to and this length/size advantage will be even pronounced against the short Jazz front court. Booz and Millsap thrive in space and with all the long arms and legs clogging up the inside, their skills probably won’t be enough to overcome their genetic short-comings.
Deron Williams played out of his mind in the first round — and for most of the past three years. This will continue. The abuse he will give Derek Fisher will be comical and even when Kobe, Artest, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown try to stick him, his quickness off the bounce and historically good crossover (easily the best in the NBA currently) will allow him to get into the paint and clear space for unperturbed pullback jumpers. Much like everything Deron does, it will be great to watch.
But Kobe, being Kobe, will be just as impressive on the other end. So, in short, brilliance counterbalances brilliance.
Given their solid play in the first round, CJ Miles and Wesley Matthews should give the Jazz an overall back court advantage, as LA has little more to offer outside of Fish doing Fish stuff (a few big shots late, spacing, savvy knowledge of the triangle, non-box score reliability). Shannon and Farmar could theoretically score some points, but that seems unlikely given how much of a six-man team Phil’s bunch has become. Throw in at least one hot-shooting night from Kyle Korver, and it seems pretty obvious that, if Utah wins this series, a lot of it will have to do with its guard play. It does seems odd to give a team of Deron and a few other relative nobodies a clear advantage here when going against a team with Mamba, but so it is. And so it shall be. If the Lakers have to play the Spurs, Manu and Tony will, metaphorically, rip LA’s face off.
But as much as I love Booz and Millsap, they’re just not 7-feet tall. And Bynum and Pau are. Gutty, active, skilled rebounders, Booz and ‘Sap will not get destroyed on the glass. But they will get destroyed in the post. If Bynum is healthy enough to hit jump hooks, catch lobs and mop up putbacks, and if the Lakers stay committed to pounding it inside (which they often, for God’s know what reason, do not) then there really isn’t much Jerry Sloan can do to stop the onslaught. Throw in some block work by Kobe and Lamar, and the Lakers should just be able to abuse the Jazz all series long.
All six games of it.
Lakers in 6