Jazz-Lakers Preview

Still trying to adjust to a new coach and life without three key

members of the rotation, the Los Angeles Lakers are focused on

taking one small step at a time.

The Lakers will try to begin working their way back to the .500

mark Sunday night when they host the Utah Jazz, who could be

without two impact frontcourt players of their own.

Los Angeles (9-11) fell to 4-6 under coach Mike D’Antoni with a

114-108 loss at Oklahoma City on Friday night.

Steve Nash isn’t expected back until at least next week and

Steve Blake is out at least six weeks with a torn abdominal muscle,

leaving third-stringer Chris Duhon as the starting point guard.

Making matters worse, All-Star forward Pau Gasol has averaged

just 10.1 points on 38.8 percent shooting since D’Antoni took over

and could miss his fourth straight game because of tendinitis in

both knees.

The Lakers, however, still have Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s scoring

leader at 28.4 per game. Bryant finished with 35 as Los Angeles cut

a 19-point deficit down to four in the final minute Friday.

Dwight Howard added 23 points and 18 rebounds and even improved

at the free-throw line, where he’s shooting a league-low 47.7

percent. He shot 5 for 7 against the Thunder after making 12 of 24

in his two previous contests.

“It’s not like we’re going to get together and start winning

right away,” Howard said. “We’re learning how to play together.

We’re getting better. This is not on anybody’s time table but

ours.”

While it hasn’t translated into many wins, Los Angeles has at

least been better offensively lately, averaging 108.2 points in its

last five games after scoring 96.4 in its previous five.

That could continue against a Utah team that has lost nine of 12

on the road, where it is allowing 108.2 points per game.

The Jazz (11-10) closed a three-game homestand with a 131-99

rout of Toronto on Friday. It was only the sixth time since the

1997-98 season that Utah scored 130 points or more in

regulation.

After going 1 for 10 from 3-point range in a win over Orlando on

Wednesday, the Jazz came back to hit 13 of 23 from long range – the

sixth-highest total in team history.

Marvin Williams, Randy Foye and DeMarre Carroll each made three

3-pointers. Foye ranks among the NBA leaders with 51 3-pointers

this season.

As one of the best fast-break teams (15.9 points per game) in

the Western Conference, Utah might be best served pushing tempo

after Los Angeles was outscored 26-8 in that area on Friday.

The Jazz outscored the visiting Lakers 15-7 on the break in a

95-89 victory on Nov. 7 – the last game for coach Mike Brown before

he was fired by Los Angeles.

While Bryant paced the Lakers with 29 points, Foye scored 17 –

including five 3-pointers – and Al Jefferson had 18 and 10 rebounds

as the Jazz won their third in a row over Los Angeles.

“We’ve just got to play Utah Jazz basketball and not worry about

what the Lakers are doing and I think we’ll have a great chance,”

Foye said.

Utah, however, might be without leading scorer Jefferson (back

spasms) and reserve forward Derrick Favors (plantar fasciitis)

again. Both are considered game-time decisions after missing

Friday’s contest.