The Los Angeles Lakers might be a favorite to win the Western Conference and the Larry O’Brien Trophy now that they have Anthony Davis alongside LeBron James. But they aren’t going to go 82-0 this season. The Clippers made sure of that by slapping their neighbors from down the hall, 112-102, in the season opener. The Lakers were one of several teams to make a splash during the offseason getting all kinds of attention for their earth-shaking acquisition of The Brow. Another team that overhauled its roster but without all the fluff was the Utah Jazz, who some feel are a sleeper in the West. The two conference heavyweights will do battle on the Staples Center floor Friday night in the Lakers home opener.
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There are several so-called ‘experts’ out there who feel the Jazz did the most during the offseason. They weren’t splashy with their roster reconstruction but they added pieces to complement the group in place, and they should be more potent offensively while still maintaining one of the NBA’s best defensive groups. How do you do that? The acquisition of Mike Conley was a start.
The veteran backcourt presence will be a nice fit alongside Donovan Mitchell, who is the face of the franchise. Outside of Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, there are no superstars on this team, and referring to those two as such is still a stretch. The players buy into the ‘team’ philosophy that Quin Snyder preaches and with pieces in place it might actually produce results.
With all the hype and hoopla surrounding James and Davis, the best player on the floor for the Lakers on Tuesday was Danny Green. He’s expected to be a contributor after helping the Raptors win the NBA title last season, but when Green is your leading scorer there are going to be problems. And the problem was offensive efficiency in the loss to the Clips. Green made 10 of 14 shots, including 7 of 9 from three-point range, for 28 points. But James and Davis shot a combined 37.5 percent.
With so many new players on both sides, the start of the season is going to be a transition. It will take time for the players to get used to each other on the court since real game action isn’t the same as practice. And how many times did the starters run in preseason games? Not much. Snyder and Frank Vogel both intimated that it will take some time without giving a definite period. I guess it happens when it happens, if it happens at all.
Mitchell is the face of the franchise and Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but the guy who makes this team a threat is Conley. The Jazz tried to swing a deal for him at last season’s deadline and whiffed. They finally got their man over the summer. Conley is a perfect complement to Mitchell in the backcourt and is equally comfortable playing the point or off the ball. His veteran influence will also help Mitchell’s growth.
Conley enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2018-19 averaging 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game. He’s also a tenacious defender, something Ricky Rubio was averse to doing last year.
Last Time Out
The Lakers go from one of the league’s top defenders and defensive teams to another to open the season, and that’s not the way to start when working in an entirely new roster. Facing Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers in the opener, the Lakers started hot but faded and their dynamic duo of James and Davis were both outscored by Danny Green.
One of the best defensive teams in the NBA over the last few years, the Jazz improved on that side of the ball with the addition of Conley. Not only will he assist the offense, he’s going to make the team tougher to score against. Gobert has won the DPOY two years in a row and will provide rim protection against LeBron and AD.
Free NBA ATS Picks
Though they played inside Staples Center Tuesday, the Lakers play their official home opener on Friday. And they’ve made Staples a living hell for the Jazz winning 25 of the 37 all time meetings against them. The Lakers struggled to score against a quality Clips defensive team and they are likely to endure the same against the Jazz, giving value to the under.
NBA Odds: Los Angeles Lakers 109, Utah Jazz 104
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