The ending of a season could not come to a more dramatic of an ending as it will for the Utah Jazz. The Jazz are only one game back of the LA Lakers with two games to go and with news breaking of Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon injury late in the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors, the one game hurdle seems even more obtainable. With Kobe out for the season is gut wrenching to Laker fans everywhere. Bryant was the main source of many things to a Laker team that was struggling to make the playoffs. Jazz fans on the other hand are covering their faces as frowns are beginning to turn upside down with the understanding that a playoff berth seems more and more likely.
Last night Big Al Jefferson held a stat line of 40 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. That kind of stat line from a veteran player who has been mediocre all season goes to show just how bad he wants it and with a playoff berth only inches away from Utah’s grasp it goes to show that no matter what the one thing the Jazz won’t be lacking in these final games is the effort. The Lakers have the one game edge and it is their playoff spot to lose, but the Jazz have easily gained the advantage with not only the injury to Bryant, but in scheduling as well.
The Jazz will face Minnesota again on Monday night on the road before finishing up in Memphis against a tough Grizzlies team on April 17. The Lakers on the other hand will be battling two highly contending playoff teams in San Antonio and Houston. The Spurs are still playing for the top seed in the West, which would come in the form of home court advantage, while the Rockets are only a half game’s reach of Golden State for the sixth spot in the West.
The Lakers will surely have to reevaluate how they are to operate on the offensive side of the ball. Kobe was the main source of offense and was played an incredible amount of minutes in April to get LA where they are today. With Kobe gone now, the Lake Show will have to place a larger emphasis on scoring inside. Pau Gasol had a triple-double last night in the Laker’s 118-116 victory over the Warriors last night and as a result, his touches will increase. Dwight Howard has already begun the leadership transition in his attempts to rally the troops.
The adjustment for the Lakers is almost too simple. In order to win, they have to prove that they can score on the inside on a consistent basis. With two proven big men in Howard and Gasol, that shouldn’t be an issue, but considering how they have heavily relied on Bryant’s scoring all season, it does leave one to wondering just how consistent they could all of a sudden be.
The Jazz on the other hand have a game plan that will be much more familiar to execute because it is what they have done all year-long. They must capitalize on match-up advantages, play solid defense, and hit 45 percent of their long balls. And with one more Laker loss, they should be in.