As Donovan Mitchell rose in the air with the ball in his right hand, JaVale McGee rose toward the basket but there was little he could do. Mitchell powered the ball past McGee’s outstretched hand for a dunk.
It was Mitchell’s most jaw-dropping play of the night, part of a dominant performance that helped his Utah Jazz beat the Lakers 113-95 on Friday. The Lakers (23-20) dropped to 3-6 without LeBron James and are only a game ahead the Jazz (22-21) for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
“We couldn’t ever get our rhythm going,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “We couldn’t find it. I think once we were struggling to score, I think we let that affect our overall energy, which is something we talk about. It’s a good learning experience for our guys. Unfortunately we didn’t find it tonight. A game against a good team that’s pretty close to us in the playoff race. But that’s the NBA. We’ve gotta get better, learn from it.”
Mitchell scored 33 points, including 19 in the first half. Rudy Gobert (12 points, 18 rebounds), Joe Ingles (14 points, 12 rebounds) and Derrick Favors (15 points, 13 rebounds) all made important contributions for the Jazz.
The Lakers’ leading scorer was Michael Beasley, who scored 17 points in 18 minutes as part of the second unit. Beasley injured his right hand during the fourth quarter but X-rays were negative for fractures.
Two nights after scoring a career-high 41 points in 29 minutes, Kyle Kuzma went cold again. He made only four of 18 shots, after going 0 for 8 in the first quarter, and missed all five three-point attempts as the Lakers finished five for 27 from deep.
“I think I just missed a couple bunnies I usually make around the rim, got a few shots blocked, but like you say I’m never really worried,” Kuzma said. “Nine times out of 10 I’m going to make shots around the rim that I missed tonight.”
Most of the Lakers struggled as the team made only 35.9% of its shots.
The Lakers trailed by six after one quarter, but the Jazz built a double-digit lead in the second quarter, outscoring the Lakers by 15.
The Lakers made only five of 24 shots during that quarter while the Jazz made 10 of 25.
“They made shots,” Ingram said. “They swung the ball around and usually used the whole shot clock to get the best shot for them. They swung the ball and they made shots. It’s kind of hard for us to start our running game when they made shots like that.”
When the Lakers’ defense improved in the third quarter — the Jazz made less than 27% of their third-quarter shots and only one of eight three-point attempts — their offense didn’t catch up. They made only 10 of 31 shots, including one of seven three-pointers.
“I just wanted to bring the energy I could in the third,” said Lonzo Ball, whose early foul trouble limited his minutes in the first half. “We cut it to 10, but we never really got over the hump.”
The Lakers pulled within 10 near the end of the third quarter. But after a failed offensive possession for the Lakers, Kuzma, Beasley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were left sprawled in a heap on the court while the Jazz pulled away once again. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers trailed by 15.
In order for the Lakers to make the playoffs, they’ll need to surpass some of last year’s playoff teams. For a while this season, it appeared the Jazz would be one of those teams that would clear some space for the Lakers.
But Friday, the Jazz were right in the conversation. And the way they played might spell trouble for a Lakers team trying to stay afloat until James returns from injury.
It’s not going to get easier from here, either. After playing Cleveland on Sunday and Chicago on Tuesday, the Lakers will face Oklahoma City, Houston and Golden State in succession.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli