Sticking with Utah on either end of the court turned out to be easier said than done for the Lakers.
The Jazz cruised to a 115-100 victory on Wednesday night by following a formula that’s worked well for them all season. Offensively, they attacked the paint to get easy baskets. Defensively, Utah locked down around the rim to keep the Lakers from finding a consistent rhythm.
“They’re a great team, a team that’s played together for a long time,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said. “Those guys know how to play with each other and you saw it. They were clicking on offense, getting stops, running out in transition. We didn’t get back enough.”
Kuzma led the Lakers with 21 points, while Javale McGee added 16 points and 13 rebounds. It wasn’t enough to prevent Utah — in fifth place in the West — from stopping the Lakers’ two-game winning streak.
LeBron James did not travel with the team to Utah. Lakers coach Luke Walton said before the game that James stayed in Los Angeles to get treatment. Lance Stephenson filled his spot in the starting lineup.
Los Angeles struggled on offense in James’ absence. The Lakers shot just 38% from the field, while the the Jazz hit 49% of their shots. The Jazz did most of their damage from the rim and in transition.
Utah outscored the Lakers 58-38 in the paint and 16-2 on fast-break points. The Lakers had a single transition basket despite collecting nine steals.
Rudy Gobert led the way for Utah with 22 points,11 rebounds and three blocks. Derrick Favors chipped in 20 points and Joe Ingles had a career-high 14 assists.
“The biggest thing is just trying to play team defense because they play team offense,” Kuzma said. “They pass the ball, they share. Hardly ever [isolation] unless it’s the fourth quarter. All those guys can shoot, so [guarding them is] a tough task.”
Utah broke the game open in the third quarter and built a 20-point lead after the Lakers missed 14 of their first 18 shots in the quarter. The Lakers shot 29% from the field overall in the quarter — including 0 of 8 from three-point range. Utah attacked the rim and scored all eight of its third quarter baskets in the paint.
“We couldn’t make shots,” Walton said. “That’s a top three defensive team for a reason. They funnel everything into Gobert and he changes and blocks shots. Whether it was tired legs or what, we just couldn’t really find an offensive rhythm.”
Kuzma scored 12 of his 21 points during the first quarter to help the Lakers keep pace with the Jazz. He scored the team’s first three baskets to cut Utah’s lead to 12-10.
The Jazz boosted their lead to 10 points three times during the opening quarter, going up 32-22 on a tip-in dunk from Favors.
The Lakers hung around after shooting six of eight to open the second quarter and trimmed Utah’s lead to 44-40. Moritz Wagner scored a pair of layups and a three-pointer to fuel the rally.
The Lakers couldn’t get any closer after the Jazz held them scoreless over a four-minute span.
The Lakers did get some positive contributions from younger players — especially in the fourth quarter. Wagner and Alex Caruso led the way as each finished with 13 points.
“I was the happy for the young guys,” Walton said. “I thought they played really well together in that fourth quarter. They continued to challenge.”
John Coon is a correspondent based in Salt Lake City.