Two teams intent on finding a better path to success will meet Monday when the Utah Jazz travel to face the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Jazz are playing on the second night of a back-to-back after ending a four-game losing streak with a 125-102 road victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. The Lakers have lost three consecutive games and are searching for answers to help an ineffective defense.
The Lakers have given up an average of 128.3 points per game in defeats against the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and the Nuggets. A 133-96 defeat at Denver on Saturday had Los Angeles players and coaches trying to explain themselves afterward.
“We’ve got to get back to the drawing board and get our defense right,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
Added guard Russell Westbrook: “We gotta make a decision. We just gotta play hard. Sometimes the schemes and how you play doesn’t really matter. You gotta just play hard sometimes. Teams are playing harder than us, simple as that.”
The Lakers have been without star forward Anthony Davis since Dec. 17 when he sprained his left knee. His return is getting closer, but he won’t be back Monday to help address the Lakers’ issues on defense.
Westbrook’s addition in the offseason was expected to create a dynamic trio with Davis and LeBron James, but halfway through his first season back in his hometown, the nine-time All-Star has been an awkward fit — among other issues the Lakers are facing.
“We’re not attacking the paint as much as we need to,” Vogel said.
At the start of the new year, the Jazz were 26-9 and one of the top teams in the Western Conference. But they were just 2-5 in January heading into play Sunday as they weathered the storm without Rudy Gobert and Rudy Gay, both of whom were in COVID-19 protocol.
Gobert missed the last five games before returning Sunday to score 18 points with 19 rebounds against the Nuggets, looking like he never was away. Gay, who missed three of the last four games, had seven points in 21 minutes Sunday.
The Jazz also have issues on defense, but that was to be expected with Gobert missing time in recent weeks.
“We know what we can do offensively,” said the Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson, who had 16 points and helped key the defensive revival Sunday. “Sometimes I think we fall into feeling like we can outscore teams because we know how powerful we are offensively. All the effort has got to come on the defensive end. … It’s black and white, we’ve got to do it at this point.”
Gobert tried to find the positive in the team’s losing streak.
“I do think that sometimes when you go through tough stretches as a team down the stretch, it can make you better, and I think you know that stretch is gonna make us better down the road,” Gobert said.
The Jazz and Lakers are meeting for the first time this season. The teams also will play at Los Angeles again on Feb. 16 and at Salt Lake City on March 31.
–Field Level Media