Is there anything the Jazz can do to combat the Lakers' size?
The short answer? No, there isn't.
The long answer? By in large, the Jazz and the Lakers have had little roster turnover since 2008. There have been ancillary changes (Ron Artest instead of Trevor Ariza, Wes Matthews instead of Ronnie Brewer, an injured Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur, a healthier Andrew Bynum), but the two teams' cores have been the same. And while the Jazz have certainly challenged the Lakers, pushing them to six games in 2008, fighting through five close games last year and challenging them in both playoff games this season, they just haven't been able to get over the hump. When push comes to shove, the Lakers' size, combined with Utah's lack of length on the perimeter and on the interior, has been too much for Utah to overcome.
Last night, it was again. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom just destroyed the Jazz's bigs, as SB Nation's Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll writes.
The story of the night was the Laker bigs. Good freaking God, did they destroy the Jazz. Pau Gasol had 22 points on 11 shots, with 15 boards, but that wasn't even the story inside. Perhaps even more impressive,Andrew Bynum had 17 points on 9 shots, with 14 boards (and I believe something like 13 of those rebounds in the 1st half). The difference between Drew's comfort level on the court between Games 1 and 2 was incredible. In Game 1, every time Drew made a move or jumped for a ball, you could see him limping for the next 30 seconds. In Game 2, you could have told me he was 100%, and I'd believe you. He didn't look hampered in any way. He just raised the confidence of all of Laker Nation in one contest, because a well-performing Drew = a dominant Lakers team. Not to be outdone, Lamar Odom played one of his most effective games off the bench. 11 points on 4 shots, with another 15 boards to add to the grand total. He also added 3 blocks, which was the average as Drew added 4 and Pau added 2.
So, let's review. LO, Drew, and Pau combined for 50 points on 24 shots, 44 rebounds (as compared to the Jazz's 40 as a team) and 9 blocks. I feel safe saying that if the Lakers get that kind of production out of the combined minutes at the 4 and 5, there isn't a team in this league that can match them. For a team that can be so dominant inside, but far too often either ignores the post completely or fails to take advantage properly, this game was a breath of fresh air.
That length matters on defense too. Utah shot just 40 percent from the field in Game 2, and Deron Williams, who shredded the Nuggets in the first round, shot just 4-16. Utah's offense, which regularly picks apart even the best defenses, is slowed to a halt against the Lakers. This has happened for three years running now, so there's no reason to expect the Jazz to get it together enough to rally from a 2-0 deficit.
Worse, it appears the Jazz have a mental block against the Lakers. Much like the Suns against the Spurs for the last few years, it doesn't feel like the Jazz believe they can win. They're at the point where they're throwing their hands in the air and acknowledging that LA's length is too much to overcome. Just read what some of the Jazz players told True Hoop's Kevin Arnovtiz after the Game 1 loss.
"Those passes you usually see Wes [Matthews], Kyle [Korver] and I make from the wings? It's hard to zip those passes because you have three 7-footers with their arms out," Jazz forward C.J. Miles said.
"It's length -- those extra inches that they take up on the court," Matthews said. "They get their hands on the ball. It makes things difficult. We have to be crisper and we have to be more sure."
"Gasol is a tremendous player," Jerry Sloan said. "He's very long, and they're very long for us to deal with. He's so big and long and that's where he hurt us. Obviously, his ability to block shots keeps us off the basket."
And, worse, from Deron Williams, the team leader:
"Unless I grow another three inches before tomorrow, there's nothing we can do about [their length]," Williams said.
There's nothing we can do about it. Perhaps it was just a throwaway line. Perhaps Williams was chuckling while saying it. But still, you don't say something like that unless, somewhere, deep down, you believe it.
It doesn't bode well for Utah's chances to rally back from a 2-0 deficit, that's for sure. Through two games, the Jazz have fought hard, but when push came to shove, they were always playing from behind, always unable to get over the mental block of LA's physical advantages when it counted most. This is a really good team that is shorthanded, don't get me wrong. They've done an amazing job to even get this far. But so far, this series has played out exactly how the other playoff series' between these two teams have. Different year, different circumstances, same result.
And it'll probably continue that way too. Unless Williams and his teammates grow three inches, of course.