L.A. Lakers at Utah
Time: 9 PM CT, ESPN
Spread: UTA -8
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Los Angeles Lakers have lost six of its last 10 overall to fall to 23-19 on the season, and it is currently without star forward LeBron James, who sustained a groin strain. The Lakers are still four games above .500 as it visits the Utah Jazz. Utah is 8-point favorites in the game, which will air at 9 PM CT on ESPN and has an over/under set at 216.5 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Without LeBron James available, much of the Lakers game plan and offensive focus has shifted to its other starting forward, Kyle Kuzma. He has delivered. Kuzma finished with 41 points on 16 of 24 shooting in L.A.’s 113-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons, and the second year man has been on a tear. Over his last 10 games, Kuzma is shooting 42.4 percent from the floor and averaging 20.4 points, 3.3 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game, even though the Lakers have won just four of those contests. On the season, he is now averaging 18.8 points per game, but his shooting range and offensive skills have complemented James well.
Ideally, the thought could be that Kuzma really finds the “alpha” in him with James out and that the Lakers are better still when its star returns. Others have not stepped up. Brandon Ingram has lingered this season and shown few improvements. Josh Hart has mostly disappointed. Lonzo Ball has had his moments but continues to look like a poor shooter with too many noticeable flaws.
Perhaps outside of Kuzma and James, the brightest spot has been the play of center JaVale McGee. He has shined as a defensive anchor, and over his last 10 games is averaging 10 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. McGee has scored double-figures in three of his last five games, and against the New York Knicks on Jan 4 he had 18 points, nine rebounds and a block in 25 minutes. McGee has never played big minutes over his career because he suffers from exercise-induced asthma, but he has thrived in the minutes he has played this season as a Laker. The Lakers have enough potential to make the postseason, but many will still flag that as a failed effort simply because James is on the roster.
Without LeBron available right now, we should begin to get an accurate gauge on what this roster is capable of aside from what James creates himself. There are some high-end talents that have cost high lottery picks, but Ingram will never fulfill his comparison to Kevin Durant because aside from being ultra-thin, he mostly lacks all the talent that has made Durant so transcendental. The Lakers’ best hopes reside in acquiring another major free agent this summer, along with the continued maturation and development of Kuzma.
Kuzma hardly cost the lottery pick that other talents on the roster did, but he has panned out to become the best pro thus far. Hart, Ingram and Ball? The jury remains out.
The Utah Jazz is 21-21 on the season and has won three of its last four games. Utah still trails Denver by eight games in the division and is currently out of the playoff picture in the West. After Donovan Mitchell’s outstanding rookie season, many were expecting the Jazz to continue to rise in the West, but Mitchell has been mostly the same player, as the Jazz has been mostly the same team, albeit slightly worse than it was a year ago.
Mitchell is averaging 20.7 points per game, but he has shot just 41.4 percent from the field and just 31.6 percent from behind the arc. Rudy Gobert has seemingly maximized what offensive potential he had, and the center is averaging 14.7 points per game while serving as the Jazz’s defensive anchor. Ricky Rubio is still the same player he has been over his entire career: astoundingly average. The Jazz has a deep and strong rotation, but without Mitchell making a quantum leap over his outstanding rookie season, Utah has remained in mostly the same place it has been: Good, but not good enough, in the Western Conference.
Rookie Grayson Allen has provided precious little and appeared in just 17 games. Georges Niang has done close to nothing after looking like a potential star in the developmental league. Dante Exum never has blossomed and appears to be little more than a career backup with outstanding (yet deceiving flashes). It all goes back to Mitchell, and he is the one with the chance to make an ascent to a star-level player. Will he? Or will Utah remain in the limbo it appears to be after its strong 50-plus win season a year ago?