The Utah Jazz look to get back in this series in Game 3, as the scene shifts to Utah after the Jazz dropped the first two games in Los Angeles. Besides now playing in front of their home fans, Utah also gets an added boost with the return of Andrei Kirilenko, so they finally have another physical presence on the floor besides a worn out Carlos Boozer. That said, the Lakers are one of the few road teams that have had success here.
Second verse, same as the first.
Please forgive the cliché, but that’s what happened in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz. The Lakers were in command for nearly the entire game. Utah could not stop Kobe Bryant (30 points, eight assists) or Pau Gasol (22 points, 15 rebounds) from abusing the Jazz down low.
Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom joined in with double-doubles. And yet the Lakers once again needed to fight off a late Utah rally to win 111-103. One important difference from Game 1: Los Angeles cashed in as a 5½-point favorite.
Not only were the first two games of this series carbon copies of one another, the same thing also happened when these two teams met in last year’s Western Conference quarterfinals, which means there’s good news for Jazz supporters:
Utah beat the Lakers 88-86 in that Game 3 as a 2-point home dog last year. This time the Jazz are 4½-point favorites on the early betting odds for Saturday’s pivotal contest, up from –3½ at the open. The total has dropped from 203½ points to 202.
Home court can cure a lot of ills. Utah has been profitable in just about any situation this year, but things get even better at the EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz went 26-13-2 ATS in the regular season and 3-0 ATS in the first round against the Denver Nuggets.
The former Delta Center has a reputation as a tough “get” on the road. Noise levels taken during the 1997 finals against the Chicago Bulls checked in at over 110 decibels. That’s as loud as a power saw from three feet away.
Playing in front of enemy fans won’t make the Lakers any shorter. But the Jazz will finally have Andrei Kirilenko back in the lineup for Game 3 after he missed nearly two months with a strained left calf. “I can help out and close out those layups the Lakers have been getting,” Kirilenko told reporters after Tuesday’s morning shootaround.
He’s got the wingspan to deal with Gasol, Bynum and Odom in the paint. Kirilenko will also draw fouls at the offensive end, and he’ll take a lot of pressure off Carlos Boozer, who has been overmatched in this series by the L.A. frontcourt without Mehmet Okur (Achilles) beside him. Boozer was blocked six times in Game 2 alone.
Health is the buzzword for the Lakers going into Game 3. Reserve guard Sasha Vujacic (ankle) is their only unavailable player, but just about everyone else is in pain, and they’ll be very happy to have three full days off to heal before Saturday’s matchup. Bynum is the biggest concern as always; an MRI taken last Saturday revealed a small tear in the meniscus of his right knee. He’s in a fair amount of agony these days.
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These guys have to play though pain, because the Lakers bench doesn’t have the manpower to soak up a lot of minutes, especially on the frontline. Josh Powell (6.77 PER) and D.J. Mbenga (11.63 PER) have fallen to the very back of the bench with Adam Morrison (7.47 PER).
That trio has combined to play 39 minutes of garbage time in this postseason. The Jazz are sure to be more physical in Game 3 with Kirilenko in the lineup; if they can’t get Bynum off the floor with foul trouble, they can at least test his tolerance for pain.
Bettors appear to be warming up to the idea that the Jazz can take Game 3. The very early action was firmly on the Lakers according to the consensus reports, but Utah started picking up steam Wednesday afternoon and the books adjusted their lines accordingly.
The Jazz had the marketplace split roughly down the middle at press time; however, Los Angeles was still the preferred choice of moneyline bettors at +170. The Lakers are 7-8 SU (7-7-1 ATS) at the former Delta Center over the past five years, so +170 looks pretty good in this situation.
They are the defending champions, after all.