Kragthorpe: Jazz's win is nice, but Lakers are not themselves
The natural temptation is to pronounce the Jazz cured now, to say that any victory over the Los Angeles Lakers is validating.
Sorry, can't do it.
The version of the Lakers appearing Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena was so lifeless and so ineffective that the Jazz can receive only so much credit for a 95-86 win.
The Jazz obviously had something to do with the Lakers' struggles, hounding them defensively and continually outworking them. If both of these teams were supposed to be desperate, having each lost three of four games to open the season, only one of them played that way.
The Jazz's effort was evident from the start, when Paul Millsap blocked a Dwight Howard shot and Gordon Hayward stripped Kobe Bryant and drove for a dunk. They're not always artistic, but they're trying.
"The guys grinded it out," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "We needed a win, bad."
So they got a win, mostly because the Lakers (1-4) played worse in falling to last place in the entire Western Conference. I'd suggest clipping and saving today's NBA standings, just for fun. As for the Jazz (2-3), nobody should be sure how much value to place in this victory.
Jazz center Al Jefferson, for one, struggled with the proper framing.
"We really can't be happy with it," he said, before clarifying, "we're happy with it, but we can't celebrate too long."
That's because more evidence is required to say the Jazz have ironed out their offense. The best that can be said about these guys is that they're better than the Lakers, which ordinarily would be quite a compliment. Not at the moment, however.
The Lakers are playing without injured point guard Steve Nash, adjusting to a new offense and trying to find themselves, to use an L.A. phrase.
"I thought we didn't play well offensively," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "I can count on both hands and both feet how many wide-open shots we had that you hope or think is going to go in."
They kept missing, shooting 33.8 percent from the field. The Jazz capitalized, to the degree that they could at this point in their own acclimation process. The stunning part of this exercise was that the Lakers were within five points in the fourth quarter. Who knows what would have happened if not for Jazz guard Randy Foye's delivering four 3-pointers in a 3-minute, 10-second stretch, because the Lakers were only a Kobe flurry away from stealing a victory.
Beating the L.A. Lakers took big efforts from Foye and Williams, the Jazz's ex-L.A. Clippers. Williams owned Nash's replacement, Steve Blake, in the first half, scoring 14 of his 16 points. Foye finished with 17, thanks to that fourth-quarter spurt that resembled a Kyle Korver spree of 3s from the old days.
"He's perfect, coming off the bench," Jefferson said. "He's the type of guy, when he gets going, sometimes he's unstoppable."
The Jazz needed that burst, because they were quite stoppable at other times. Fortunately, so were the Lakers. They never led during their only visit to Salt Lake City of the 2012-13 season, an appearance that always results in that weird atmosphere where every basket is cheered.
There were only 25 of those from the Lakers, who scored 32 points via free throws and 54 via field goals. Until a late, meaningless foul, Bryant had attempted 17 free throws to the Jazz's 16.
So the referees made the Jazz work for this win, but they were willing to do so. That's progress, at this point.