Lakers-Jazz series breakdown
No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 4 Jazz
Season Series: Lakers 3-1
Nov. 4 -- Lakers 119, Jazz 109: Kobe Bryant scored 33 points (on 13-of-19 shooting) and Derek Fisher added 19 points and five assists in his first game against his former Utah team as the Lakers rolled in L.A. Deron Williams had 26 and Carlos Boozer 23 for the Jazz.
Nov. 30 -- Jazz 120, Lakers 96: Despite the absence of the injured Boozer and Mehmet Okur, the host Jazz cruised behind Williams' 35 points and Andrei Kirilenko's triple double (20-11-11). Bryant had 28 points and Jordan Farmar 21 off the bench to pace the Lakers.
Dec. 28 -- Lakers 123, Jazz 109: Bryant's 31 points led five Lakers scorers in double figures as host L.A. sprinted to a 38-point first quarter en route to an easy triumph. Boozer had 20 points and 11 boards for Utah, but Williams finished with just six points and six assists to go with four turnovers.
Mar. 20 -- Lakers 106, Jazz 95: Bryant had 27 points, eight boards and seven assists as the Lakers (minus the injured Pau Gasol) rode another hot start to snap Utah's 19-game home win streak. Williams had 26 points and 12 assists, and Boozer had 23 points and 15 boards, to lead the Jazz.
Kobe Bryant's quest for an NBA title continues against a rugged Jazz team seeking a second straight trip to the Western Conference finals. The Lakers come in riding high as the West's top seed and the only team in the first round to sweep its opponent (the Nuggets). Utah comes in knowing it just faced down a similar high-scoring star in Houston's Tracy McGrady and prevailed in six games.
The Jazz boast one of the game's best inside-outside combos in point guard Deron Williams and power forward Carlos Boozer. They get ample help from long-armed pogo-stick Andrei Kirilenko, sweet-shooting center Mehmet Okur, athletic wingman Ronnie Brewer, three-point specialist Kyle Korver and hard-nosed reserve Matt Harpring. Coach Jerry Sloan makes sure they run his system or else they don't play.
Los Angeles takes its cue from Bryant, the likely MVP who has been on a mission this season. He joins Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to form a Big Three that may be as good as any in the league, while Derek Fisher, Vladimir Radmanovic, Luke Walton and a deep bench provide a smart and steady supporting cast. Phil Jackson orchestrates it all with a steady hand and always seems to make the correct playoff adjustments when needed.
Utah and L.A. both feature high-scoring offenses likely to put up 100 points most nights. The Jazz get it done with precise execution and great rebounding, but they don't do a great job stopping penetration and they lead the league in fouls. The Lakers use Bryant to initiate the offense, but they play off him well and do a great job protecting the basket with the 7-foot Gasol, the 6-10 Odom and other big bodies.
Key Matchup: Williams vs. Bryant
They might play different backcourt positions, but these two superb guards make their respective teams go. The 6-3 Williams is one of the best point guards in the game, able to score and dish like few others. Despite being in just his third NBA season, he plays like a seasoned vet and has shown an ability to deliver in the clutch. However, he struggled at times to get untracked against the Lakers' team defense during the regular season. Bryant is the game's best shooting guard, a prolific scorer (28.3 points per game during the regular season) who also rebounds, defends and sets up teammates. He did his usual damage to the Jazz during the season series, and he will be matched up against a relatively inexperienced defender in the second-year Brewer - at least initially. At the other end, don't be surprised if Bryant moves over to cover Williams at key points in the series.
X-Factor For Lakers: Fisher
The veteran point guard left Utah last season amid some controversy after asking out of his contract for personal reasons. He probably won't be rattled by any flak from the raucous Jazz crowd, but it could play on his psyche a bit. Fisher must stay in front of Williams on defense, and knock down those open three-pointers on offense. With his vast big-game experience, and knowledge of Williams' tendencies from having played with him last year, Fisher should be OK.
X-Factor For Jazz: Okur
The 6-11 center was not able to duplicate his All-Star campaign of a year ago, but he remains a potential matchup headache with his ability to step out and hit the three-pointer. The Lakers will probably have to put Odom on him instead of Gasol, but that could open things up for Boozer down low. The Jazz need Okur to drain those long-range shots, and provide stiff resistance down low on Gasol, if they are going to have any chance of pulling off the upset.
The Pick: The Jazz are a scrappy bunch who execute sharply on offense and rebound the ball, especially at home. But the Lakers have the homecourt advantage in this series, along with Kobe. L.A. in six.