The first round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs features the number one seed Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) against the eighth seed Utah Jazz (48-34). In the three-game season series between the two clubs, the Lakers won two. Of all NBA clubs, Los Angeles posted the second-best record, while the Jazz had the 12th best mark in the league. Los Angeles won seven of its last 10 and two straight. Utah has gone 3-7 in its final 10 contests.
Of all NBA teams, the Lakers scored the most points per game—106.9. They posted the second best PF/PA differential, averaging plus-7.7. However, Los Angeles allowed opponents 99.3 PPG, which is the fifth-worst mark amongst playoff teams. Utah, which has a 15-26 road record, allowed opponents 100.9 PPG while scoring 103.6 PPG. Their PF/PA average of plus-2.6 is third worst among Western Conference teams.
The Lakers are led by the league’s top shooting guard Kobe Bryant. The 12-year veteran hits 35% of his threes, 47% of his shots from the field and 86% of his frees. He leads the team with 26.8 PPG and 4.9 APG. Bryant also shows good “D,” averaging 1.46 SPG. At forward/center, Pau Gasol has solid rebounding chops (9.6 RPG), fine defensive skills (1.00 BPG) and excellent point scoring potential (18.9 PPG). Power forward Lamar Odom, who averaged 11.3 PPG, is an excellent defender, blocking an average of 1.3 shots each contest and taking down 8.2 rebounds per game. Odom is good 49% of the time from the open court. Center Andrew Bynum, who has been hurt much of the season, is an important force on the court. Along with 14.3 PPG, Bynum has averaged 1.8 blocks and 8 rebounds per game. The Lakers have a solid starting five and a decent bench.
The Jazz put six players on the court who scored in double digits this season and one consistent double-double man—Carlos Boozer. Boozer, who missed a slew of games from late November to late February due to injury, has put up five double-doubles in his last eight appearances. He needs to be healthy for this team to compete in round one. Power forward Paul Millsap offers fine defense, averaging 0.96 BPG and 1.03 SPG. Point guard Deron Williams is a double-double threat with 19.4 PPG and 10.7 APG. Center Mehmet Okur has a fine shot, averaging 49% from the field, 45% from downtown and 82% from the charity stripe. Five players average 1.05 steals per game or better, making Utah an extremely dangerous club.
Although Los Angeles is the top club in Western Conference, they are certainly vulnerable. Their defense is lacking and Odom’s problems with injury are worrisome. The Jazz play decent defense and have scoring potential. But they lack the ability to win on the road, making them susceptible in this seven-game opening series. I doubt that Utah can take this series any further than six games. Look for the Lakers to take this first round series 4-2.