Los Angeles Lakers: Carlos Boozer

Thibs: Boozer good fit with Lakers

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Friedell By Nick Friedell
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau believes Carlos Boozer will be a good fit for the Los Angeles Lakers this season.

Boozer was claimed off waivers by the Lakers on Thursday. The final year of Boozer's deal was amnestied by the Bulls on Tuesday.

"When you look at four years and you win 200 games, he did a terrific job for us," Thibodeau said Friday. "Carlos has had a great career, he did his job here, and we wish him nothing but the best. I think the Lakers, I think that will be a good fit for him. But he did a great job for us."

Boozer averaged 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds last season for the Bulls.

Lakers mulling many 'Plan B' options

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
It's no secret that the Los Angeles Lakers' primary plan in free agency was to bring the top two prizes available on the market in LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony into their possession. By bagging one of the top 10 players ever to play the game in James and arguably one of the top 10 most gifted scorers ever to lace them up in Anthony, combining them with Kobe Bryant in the twilight of his career (someone who fits on both of those top 10 lists), the Lakers felt as if they would automatically reboot their team back on a championship trajectory.

It was a solid Plan A. Or it technically still is a solid Plan A until James and Anthony officially inform the Lakers they have plans to the contrary. And even if James should choose to head back to Cleveland or stay in Miami or go elsewhere, and even if Anthony opts to stay in New York or entertain one of the other offers out there from Chicago, Houston or Dallas instead, it's a strategy that Bryant fully supports.

[+] EnlargeKobe Bryant, Mitch Kupchak
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty ImagesKobe Bryant says GM Mitch Kupchak and Lakers management are doing everything they can to make the moves necessary to turn the team around.
"They're going for it," Bryant said Wednesday of Lakers management. "There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. They're being extremely aggressive and they have solid concepts and plans to be able to get it done. They're pulling out all the stops to ensure that we put a contender on the floor next year. That's all you can ask for. Same thing that they ask of me: When I step out on the court, they expect me to play my heart out. Right? To prepare and to give it my best shot. Sometimes it doesn't always work out the way you want it to, but at least the intention and the commitment was there."

Of course, if the Lakers don't land their top targets this summer, they have a contingency plan in place.

The philosophy behind the Lakers' Plan B is twofold: find a way to be competitive next season to get back on track after a disastrous 27-55 campaign in 2013-14 yet at the same time, protect their cap space flexibility to be able to pursue the biggest names in the summers of 2015 (Kevin Love), 2016 (Kevin Durant) and 2017 (Russell Westbrook).

"It's a good class, but in terms of today who might be at the very top, maybe it's not as large as it might be next year or the year after," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said on draft night when asked about the free-agency market this summer. "And keeping that in mind, we structured our salary knowing that, hey, you might not get two or three guys, but we have enough room to get at least one. And if we don't have one and we choose to, we can go down the road and have flexibility next year and the year after that."

The Lakers' desire to maintain a star-based system is pretty understandable. When you are in one of the media capitals of the world and are charging $3,000 per courtside seat, there needs to be a draw on the court to expect those prices. When you are being paid upward of $200 million per season from your regional sports network television partner, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, there's a certain obligation to have not only a competitive team, but compelling characters to get people to want to tune in and watch.

The specific machinations of the Lakers' Plan B remain a mystery, however. There are many different directions in which they can head, depending on how other pieces fall into place around the league.

"We have several options," Bryant said. "Obviously depending on the timing of this process, it affects some of those. You have a plan that's flexible, but you have a Plan A and a Plan B. But some of the Plan B is affected by the timing of Plan A. So, you just kind of plan it out and wait and see what happens and respond from there."

Here's a look at several ways L.A. could end up responding if it loses out on its top choice:


What should the Lakers do with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony out of the picture?


Discuss (Total votes: 14,517)

1. Sign Pau Gasol
The way Gasol's season came to a premature end thanks to a bizarre bout of vertigo, it seemed as if his time in L.A. would finish with a whimper after 7½ seasons. Gasol posted on his personal website in February that, "My decision will be based purely on sporting considerations." Meaning, he wants to win. But how much money is he willing to sacrifice to do so? If the Lakers don't end up using max money on Anthony, they could try offering Gasol a big-money, short-term, two-year deal that coincides with the end of Bryant's contract. Think $10 million-$12 million range and even give Gasol a player option for the second year allowing him to skip town for greener pastures should he not feel as if the Lakers were heading in the right direction.

Not only would this allow Gasol to stay in the city he loves for its culture and community -- he has several charities in Los Angeles with which he is very involved -- but it would also keep him from having to suddenly uproot his life at 34 and settle someplace else. Not to mention, just like Gasol is being used as a potential selling point to try to bring in Anthony this summer, he'd be an intriguing potential teammate for the other big names that the Lakers go after in the coming years.

Yes, Oklahoma City and San Antonio -- two of the handful of teams vying for Gasol -- are much more equipped to win right now, but they can offer him far less money. Same goes for Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks. Putting Gasol alongside a healthy Bryant and a promising rookie in Julius Randle next season would not only get the Lakers back on track in the short term, but could help them get one of those other stars they covet in the future.

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Four years ago this summer, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul were two of 12 NBA players determined to restore America's standing as the worldwide kings of basketball. In a classic game against Spain (featuring none other than Pau Gasol), Team USA won the gold and showed fans how a team of elite superstars can push egos to the side for the sake of a larger goal.

With Lakers-Clippers on the docket this evening
, various ESPN scribes (including the K Bros) gathered thoughts from Bryant's and Paul's Olympic teammates and coaches about the experience of working with them. Click here to make a patriotic trip down Memory Lane, and below are excerpts with Kobe's and Paul's recollections about one another:

Kobe on Paul: He's tough. He's tough as nails, man; he doesn't back down from anything or anybody. I'd never been as close to him, but when I was [on the Olympic team] I'd try to challenge him, see what he's made of and he's a tough little sucker.

Paul on Kobe: Me and Kob really figured out how much we had in common on that trip. That Olympic experience is when we got a lot closer. Me and my wife send him Christmas cards and his family sends us Christmas cards, and now we talk on a regular basis. We both want to win so badly. It's one of those things where as great a relationship as we have, as long as we're playing on the same court against each other, we're always going to get into it, you know what I mean? That's the respect factor, because you know that he wants it just as bad as I do.

Lakers-Bulls blog exchange with ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell

December, 25, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Christmas Day fast approaches, along with a regular-season opener against the Chicago Bulls. It's a challenging way for the Lakers to tip off the 2011-12 campaign, as the visitors offer a plethora of questions. How will the Lakers slow down reigning MVP Derrick Rose? Will Joakim Noah be able to annoy Pau Gasol out of rhythm? Can Devin Ebanks, in his first career start, hang with the multiskilled Luol Deng? Will Tom Thibodeau's defensive schemes bottle up Kobe Bryant? Will Carlos Boozer actually play defense?

With so much wonder in the air, it felt like high time to hit up our buddy Nick Friedell from ESPN Chicago for some thoughts on the Bulls. And since Nick has incredible taste, he naturally wanted my insight on the Lakers. Blog exchange time! First, Nick supplies responses to my question about the Bulls, then the process is reversed.

Andy Kamenetzky: What steps does Rose need to take, on the court and mentally, for the Bulls to reach the Finals or beyond? Is he ready? And how much do you expect the new contract, playing as more of a marked man, etc., to affect him?
Nick Friedell: Rose is ready to lead the Bulls to a championship. He's learned from his mistakes against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season, and he badly wants to lead his hometown team to its seventh title. He spent a lot of time watching tape of what happened against Miami, and turned all the disappointment and frustration from that loss into fuel to work even harder in the summer.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Even with an MVP trophy to his name, Rose is ready to discover another level.

As far as the contract goes, I don't think it will affect him much at all. I don't completely believe him when he says he feels zero pressure because of the new deal, but I understand what he's saying in this sense -- nobody puts more pressure on himself to win than Rose. Nobody wants to win more than he does in Chicago. His pressure comes from within. I think he embraces the status that comes with being a "marked man" in the league.

AK: What does Richard Hamilton bring for this team, and how well do you see him fitting? How big an acquisition could he potentially be?
NF: It could be huge. Hamilton gives the Bulls a championship-caliber shooting guard, something they didn't have last season. After all, Keith Bogans started and played 15 to 20 minutes per game for the Bulls in 2010-11. Hamilton seems to have fit in with his new teammates quickly and undoubtedly will take some pressure off Rose. The issue, as it is for everybody, is whether at 33 (going on 34 in February) he can stay healthy and produce all season. If he can, and he plays solid defense, he could be the missing piece.

AK: Where are the Bulls most vulnerable as team, particularly against the Lakers? And "nowhere," by the way, is an acceptable answer.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
A betting man would wager money on "Flash" getting the better end of this sequence.

NF: It would be easy, especially without Andrew Bynum on the floor Sunday, to say nowhere. But the Bulls still have Boozer on the floor, and Boozer is still a bad defender. Thibodeau always says the Bulls play a team defense, and that's true to a certain extent, but Boozer is the weak link. The Lakers should look to exploit him at that end any way they can.

AK: Which matchup are you most curious to see Sunday?

NF: I want to see how Noah performs without Bynum down low. Will the Bulls try to feed him the ball even more because of that absence? How much time will Gasol get on him? What about Troy Murphy? Either way, that should give Boozer more freedom to operate as well. Noah needs to show some improvement in his offensive game, and this would be the perfect opportunity for him to do it.

AK: Who wins and why?

NF: The Bulls. Rose and Noah have been looking forward to this game all summer. They want to win this game on a national stage and show everyone they weren't a fluke last season. Plus, without Bynum, it's going to be tough for the Lakers to score.

And now, the Lakers-centric section ...

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The Triangle: 2012 Eastern Conference champs

September, 5, 2011
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
Having already predicted the 2012 Western Conference champs, it's only natural to focus right of the Mississippi. Along with 710 ESPN basketball analyst Dave Miller, we make our call as to which team will win the East in 2012, and whether the Lakers could take them in a theoretical Finals.

Lakers vs. Jazz: What to watch with Salt City Hoops

January, 25, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
As I mentioned in Monday's practice report, awareness was expressed about the commonality between the Mavericks' desperate situation last week, when a six-game losing streak was snapped against the champs, and the Jazz's this evening. Whether this proves mere lip service against a visitor on a four-game skid (all on the road, no less) with 16 consecutive losses at Staples remains to be seen, but at the very least, the issue has been acknowledged. No give-backs allowed.

AP Photo/George Frey
Jerry Sloan is not happy these days with his team.

Pau Gasol also noted the importance of this game as a table-setter. It's the kick off for five consecutive home contests, three of which are the Jazz, Celtics and Spurs. From there, it's a seven-game roadie leading into the All-Star break, and only Cleveland qualifies as a bonafide cupcake stop. Tonight marks the start of an undoubtedly challenging stretch, and the Lakerscan't afford to drop a game against a reeling team because they either relaxed (as was the case against Dallas) or never showed up to begin with.

With that in mind, I called upon Spencer Ryan Hall from True Hoop's Salt City Hoops for his take on the Jazz's malaise. Hall expresses optimism at the team's eventual ability to weather the storm, but admits the lack of inspiration prompted by Utah's recent play.

Andy Kamenetzky:
The Jazz enter this game on a four-game losing streak. What's been the cause of the skid and how can they fix it?

Spencer Ryan Hall: Any time a team has to face a murderers' row like the Wizards, Nets and 76ers, things are going to be tough, right? I kid because the Jazz just finished what should have been the easiest stretch of the season over the last few weeks. But it just wouldn't be this year's style to do anything the easy way. It looks like the Jazz forgot to pack their second half-game on the recent road trip. I'm just hoping the tendency to fall behind big and roar back late will be a description of the season and not just a few games.

As for a fix, it isn't in Jerry Sloan's nature to tinker with the lineup, but could it get any worse? There have been several games this season when I've had the same number of points and rebounds as some starters after multiple quarters.

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Week in preview: December 6 - December 12

December, 6, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
After a four game skid of massive proportions (by the defending champ's standards), the Lakers got back on the winning side of things with an unbridled beatdown at the Sacramento Kings' expense. Does that thrashing equal a righted ship? This week provides four bodies of evidence one way or the other. As always, the results will be interesting.


Wednesday @Clippers, 7:30
My first gander at Blake Griffin up close and in the flesh during a game officially counted towards an NBA regular season? You better believe I'm stoked! There are better players in the NBA than the Clipper rookie, but graded on the scale of excitement potential, he may very well be the reigning big kahuna for The Assocation.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Seriously, Tiago. Get out of the way.

Covering the Lakers day in and day out often leaves me with disappointingly little time to just kick back and watch other teams play on a regular basis. Even a local team like the Clippers can be a viewing challenge. Thanks to the power of Twitter, however, I never miss a Griffin highlight. Every move by the kid sends the Tweetosphere into "bananas" overdrive. Particularly his dunks, so powerful and elevated the descriptions feel cartoonish. (Think if people had more than 140 characters at their disposal.) If I didn't know for a fact Griffin was a real person, he could very well be written off as an urban legend. A Sidd Finch or Lochness monster for the 21st century Internet age. It's just impossible to thrill at such a high rate, right?

Seeing is believing, and I can't wait to believe from inside the building.

In the meantime, the Clippers as a team offer some interesting wrinkles. For starters, their improved play over the last couple of weeks. Upon snapping a nightmarish nine-game losing streak, the Clips have played .500 ball, highlighted by wins over the Hornets and Spurs. They're also playing with more fire and solidarity, evidenced by the ejections for Brian Cook and Craig Smith (among other dustups) during Sunday's loss in Portland.

There are also lineup considerations. Will a tweaked ankle prevent Chris Kaman from suiting up? Will Baron Davis usurp rookie Eric Bledsoe as the starting point? (I hope so. "The Beard" may the A-Lister, but I think Derek Fisher matches up considerably better against Baron than the fleet-footed rook.) And if recent pairings against the Xavier Henry's of the world have left Kobe Bryant, shall we say, uninspired to exert his full defensive attention, a date with Eric Gordon -- assuming the assignment doesn't fall to Ron Artest -- should provide the polar opposite effect. Between his staggering improvement and the injury bug's vendetta with Brandon Roy, an argument can be made Gordon is the best two-guard in the western conference without an ankle insurance endorsement deal. I can't imagine Kobe won't attempt to pull out all the stops on both sides of the ball.

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Lakers vs. Bulls: What to Watch with ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell

November, 23, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The re-made Chicago Bulls have won four of their last five games after a sluggish start, led by high level play from Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. For a Lakers team in need of a challenge, the Bulls are just that- strong defensively on the offensive glass, and featuring a red hot, top flight point guard able to both score and distribute.

ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell breaks down this year's Chicago Bulls ahead of Tuesday's game" Podcast Listen
Add in the natural ties between the two teams (Phil Jackson's history, the unavoidable Jordan/Kobe comparisons) and it should be a fun game. To get you ready, we spoke at length with Bulls beat writer Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago.

PART I: Previewing the Bulls

We pepper Friedell with questions about Tuesday's opponent for the Lakers. Highlights include...

-An overview of the Bulls as they come in, fresh off a road win in Dallas Friday night. "The Bulls are feeling great right now. A lot of people weren't sure how they were going to perform without Carlos Boozer... but the Bulls are playing great, led by Rose."
-Luol Deng: "So many people can't separate the [big] contract from his [performance], but right now, he's playing fairly well. I can't underscore what a difference it has made being in Tom Thibodeau's system for Luol Deng... He's running the floor and cutting across screens more than I've ever seen him. A little like Rip Hamilton."
-Keys to Rose's high performance. Health is a major factor, as is natural improvement. Another factor- he has faith in Thibodeau, as do the rest of his teammates.
-Turns out we weren't the last people to know how to say Thibodeau. It's not "Tib-o-dow," but "Thib-o-dow." Even the Bulls staff had it wrong, months after they hired him.
-How Chicagoans view Jackson, now that he's achieved so much in L.A., as well. "He's the Bulls coach."
-Worries the return of Boozer, out all season with a bum hand, may not help all that much. Some even wonder if it'll hurt. Friedell notes, though, how Boozer's interior scoring is something the Bulls haven't seen in eons, and need.

Andy and Brian answer questions about the Lakers from ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell" Podcast Listen
Part II: Breaking down the Lakers

Friedell hits us with questions of his own...

-How big a threat is boredom, really? Not much, in our minds, thanks in large part to the arrival of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, helping energize the team early in the season.
-Aside from injuries, what might allow a Western Conference team to beat them? Obviously no team is unbeatable, but because of the team's versatility there's no team in a seven game series with clear advantages over them.
-The impact of Barnes, and how Lamar Odom is getting himself into the post far more this year than last, a key to his strong play.

ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell breaks down this year's Chicago Bulls ahead of Tuesday's game" Podcast Listen
-Nick's impression of the Lakers, having seen them live for the first time this season on Sunday night. "They look different than anyone else, as far as I'm concerned." Plus, Thibodeau's contention Odom is the most underrated player in the league. High praise, for sure.

Part III: How does Chicago view Kobe Bryant?

-A pretty simple question: With Kobe holding a legitimate chance to not only equal, but pass Jordan in the championship ring count before it's all over, how do Chicagoans view him?

Lakers 111, Jazz 96: One Moment

May, 10, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
With 3:11 remaining in the second quarter, Carlos Boozer is fed on a re-post by Deron Williams. Having just unsuccessfully tried to back down Pau Gasol, facing up for traction against El Spaniard yields results no better for the Jazz's All-star. Boozer loses the handle upon contact and Derek Fisher dives for the loose ball, slipping it to Gasol from a seated position. Pau's roots as a teenage point guard are in full effect as he dribbles right-handed down court before backing down Kyrylo Fesenko near the arc. The ball is then dished to Fisher as Pau re-posts while waiting to get the rock back.

This time, reestablished position pays dividends for a big man.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
This was a bad man. Or un hombre
malo, if you prefer.

Gasol pounds the ball a few more times, then spins left for a drive down the baseline. Fesenko does a solid job cutting off the basket, but the Ukrainian remains over-matched. Pau stops his footwork on a dime like a basketball James Brown, reverses back, then spins forward for a righty hook.

Arm stretched towards the heavens, Gasol watches as the ball rattles through the cylinder.

The Laker bench is on its feet, minds blown at the seven-footer's grace and control.

Twitter is in overdrive with "Dream shake" references.

Meanwhile, Gasol is in complete control of the sequence, just like he was throughout the night as the Lakers completed a sweep of the Utah Jazz.

There are times when looking at the box score drives home exactly how well a guy played. Other times, you have to look beyond the box score to really understand the impact.

In Pau's case, both approaches are necessary.

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Saturday's 111-110 Game 3 win for the Lakers in Salt Lake City contained some elements featured prominently in the pre-tip script. For example, with 35 points, including two clutch jumpers down the stretch, and seven assists, Kobe Bryant was outstanding. No surprise given a) he's Kobe Bryant, and b) he's historically used Utah as his personal pin cushion. Derek Fisher, entrusted with a critical shot in the final minute, drew nothing but twine. We've seen that before. Pau Gasol, after a slow start, filled the box score with major contributions. Been there, done that.

Other aspects, though, required some rewrites.

The Lakers, so dominant in the front court over the first two games, had one field goal from Gasol at the half, and got nothing offensively from Andrew Bynum all night. Literally, as Bynum didn't score a single point. Instead, they relied on Bryant, and also the -- brace yourself -- pinpoint shooting of Ron Artest, who made four of his seven attempts from beyond the arc, including three in a critical third quarter stretch.

But even if deviated from the expected, as I wrote following the game, Saturday's win was a great demonstration of what can make NBA playoff basketball so exciting. There were big performances by both team's stars -- Deron Williams finished with 28 points and nine dimes, not quite matching Bryant but still acquitting himself well, but also surprises, like Artest's offensive outburst, a nine-for-10 night from Kyle Korver, or a first half in which the bigs were silent but L.A. stayed tight nonetheless thanks not just to Bryant, but also key buckets from Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar.

Best of all, the final three minutes was a great game of "Can you top this?" pulling fans out of their seats, be said rear-rester at EnergySolutions Arena or in their living rooms. When it was over, ESPN.com's Kevin Arnovitz (of ClipperBlog/TrueHoop fame) and I put together the video below, breaking down that great end to a great game. Thanks as always to Kevin, who really does most of the heavy lifting on these collaborations.

Lakers slip by Jazz: The Reactions

May, 9, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
An instant classic in Salt Lake City gives the Lakers a 3-0 stranglehold on the series against the Jazz. The 111-110 finish provided chills, thrills and spills, with critical action going down to the very last second. This was a truly fantastic game, and before even dwelling on the specifics, Brian just loved the spirit both teams brought to the table:
    Saturday night, the Lakers and Jazz engaged in 48 minutes of what playoff basketball is supposed to be. Two teams playing at an extremely high level, rising to the occasion to make plays down the stretch, and through the game generally. How many of you stood in your living rooms for the final moments of the game? Or were so wired after the buzzer you inhaled all the leftover Zankou Chicken still sitting on the counter after a halftime dinner? (OK, that's a little specific, but you get the point ... )

Any leftover fowl enjoyed by ESPNLA.com's Dave McMenamin would have been consumed over a discussion about three-point shooting. The Lakers' prowess from downtown wasn't just deadly. It was as crazy as the dude leading the long distance way:
    The outside barrage was led by none other than Ron Artest, who needed just seven attempts to make four 3s after needing 42 attempts to make seven 3s in his first eight games of the playoffs. Artest was so pleased with his performance, which brought a climactic ending to his Twitter feud with Lakers coach Phil Jackson, that he even talked a little trash in his postgame news conference."I was so happy that Coach Sloan had that defensive strategy to play off me," Artest said. "It got me going a little bit. Now we can play basketball the right way. No more gimmick defense."

    Said Jackson: "Before the game I said, 'We know he can make them.' Three-point shooters run hot-and-cold. Tonight he was pretty hot."

Seriously, this was one heck of a surprise shootout being orchestrated by Artest and Kyle Korver. Just ask ESPNLA.com's Arash Markazi:
    The see-saw fourth quarter turned out to be a surprising perimeter dual between Korver and Ron Artest, which no one could have predicted considering Korver was 0-for-2 in the first two games in Los Angeles and Artest was 7-for-42 from beyond the arc in the playoffs. The two players combined for 20 points in the fourth quarter and hit 9-of-12 3-pointers in the game."I don't like going back and forth," Artest said. "I'll pay more attention the next game. I'm sure it was fun for the fans but we don't like to make it for the fans."

    Artest and Korver were able to have fun during the game basically because neither defense expected either player to make much of an impact. In fact, the Jazz wanted Artest to shoot from the outside so much they basically pretended as if he were invisible once he wandered past the arc.

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Five things to watch in Lakers-Jazz Game 3

May, 8, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The Jazz have spent the Western Conference semi-finals looking seriously outclassed against the Lakers. Too much size surrendered. Too few mismatches in their favor. Too many centers named Kyrylo or Kosta. Basically, a crew without any legitimate hope. But as the ol' saying goes, a series hasn't truly begun until a team loses at home. Now on their turf, the Jazz will try to prevent an official start. As the Lakers attempt a 3-0 advantage, here are five factors I could see coming into play during this pivotal Game 3:

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Funny outfits. Cruel taunts.

1) The Lakers need to mentally prepare themselves for Utah's crowd. I realize EnergySolutions Arena hardly represents uncharted playoff waters. This is the third straight postseason pitted against the Jazz and the rotation has only three players (Shannon Brown, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar) with fewer than five seasons of NBA experience. As a collective, the Lakers are quite familiar with the world being entered. But if it were that simple for the Lakers --or any team, for that matter-- Utah's home court advantage (32-9 this season) wouldn't be so pronounced.

Or nasty.

Oklahoma City's Ford Center, for example, was absolutely bananas. As loud as any building Kobe recalled playing in during the playoffs, and a nice preclude to the noise awaiting the Lakers in Salt Lake City. But the Jazz crowd doesn't just offer equal amplitude. Things are taken to a different, more hostile level. OKC fans rooted passionately against the Lakers while still maintaining a noticeable degree of sportsmanship and respect. SLC houses a crowd more mean-spirited. Jazz fans take pride in creating a hostile atmosphere. Occasionally, they act in a way unfitting of human beings with compassion or dignity.

Everyone's obviously not this insensitive, and I'm sure the overwhelming majority of patrons are very good people outside of this setting. But the reality is visiting teams get treated with a serious lack of hospitality, and the Lakers need to prepare themselves mentally and emotionally. Not to mention physically. Speaking of which...

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No Ron-Ron v. Deron, but Artest's defensive impact is still felt

May, 5, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Heading into Game 2, one of the presumed story lines was another mano y' mano between Ron Artest and Jazz point guard Deron Williams. Phil Jackson put his defensive specialist on Utah's All-Star for large chunks of Game 1 and hinted we'd see more of this look throughout the series. D. Will mentioned a speed advantage he deemed exploitable, an opinion clearly upping Artest's dander. However, the joke was on us, as Tuesday's 111-103 Game 2 victory featured mostly Derek Fisher checking his former protege. At least for those 48 minutes, a sequel got the kibosh.

But despite spending time marking the less heralded C.J. Miles, Artest wasn't left starved for opportunities to make his defensive mark. Quite the contrary, in fact. Particularly during the first quarter, when his prowess played a key role in flipping an early Laker deficit.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Ron Artest earned the right to whoop it up with a
courtside fan.

With the Lakers down 11-4 after nearly four minutes, Artest was fed under the rim by Pau Gasol and drew a foul against Kyrylo Fesenko. He hit the first of two free throws, breaking up a 8-0 Utah run, and his missed followup even managed to pay dividends as Gasol drew a loose ball foul pursuing the rebound. The new Laker possession was converted into a pick and roll dunk for Andrew Bynum.

From here, Artest's footprint grew even more pronounced, predictably through his signature defense and energy.

After Miles received an inbound pass in the corner, Artest immediately trapped him, then popped the southpaw's outlet pass in the air to himself. The rock slipped out of bounds and Utah maintained possession, but no worries, as this was merely the main attraction's opening act. On the new and scrambled sequence, Artest found himself checking Williams at the arc. Williams tried shooting a pass inside to Carlos Boozer at the elbow, but Ron-Ron's hands-hands were too fast-fast. The ball's popped once again straight up, this time landing securely in Fisher's mitts. Upon streaking downcourt along the right wing, Artest received a bounce pass from Fish and threw down an emphatic right-handed dunk.

Later in the frame, Kobe and Boozer hit the deck in pursuit of the rock after Paul Millsap lost the handle driving against Lamar Odom. The ball slipped out of the scrum and Artest tapped it over Wes Matthews' head right to Fisher, who drew a pair of free throws courtesy of Williams. Little time passed before Artest jumped a pass from Williams to Korver and it was off to the races for an uncontested layup. 23-20 Lakers, as the purple and gold slowly regained control of the game.

"Ron's a special player with a special personality," praised Kobe after the game. "A lot of players, when they miss shots and miss layups, they don't give the same effort on the other end. He's actually the opposite. When he misses those things, he feels a responsibility to increase the intensity and increase his energy on the defensive end of the floor and to make something happen. A lot of players aren't like that."

The value of Artest's defense, regardless of his assignment, was reinforced to everyone... save the man of the hour himself.

"I can't remember what I did," said Artest when I mentioned his first quarter defensive energy. "A lot of people said I played good defense. Even our trainer. I was just playing hard. I don't even remember what was so good about whatever I did."

One man's "another day at the office" is another blogger's food for post.

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Lakers take Game 2: The reactions

May, 5, 2010
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The bigs were gigantic in L.A.'s Game 2 win over the Jazz Tuesday night, as Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom combined for 50 points (on 18-of-24 shooting), 44 rebounds, and nine blocks. That's a season's worth of work for Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos. Two, maybe. But it wasn't just the Lakers' size. Andy cited Kobe Bryant's incredible second quarter as a major factor behind the victory:

Chris Carlson/AP Photo
Kobe Bryant isn't a "big," but he played plenty large in Tuesday's Game 2 win over Utah.

"...His work during this 4:47 stretch was the roundball equivalent of a conductor with his orchestra or a puppet master controlling seriously athletic marionettes. Just a brilliant manipulation of moving parts... There was also great success as Kobe set up shop several times on the right block... Three straight layups were created from more or less the exact same spot on the floor. Each time, recognition of the approaching help defender and the cutting Laker led to a score so easy, Kobe barely broke a sweat while calling the shots..."

Bynum may be playing through pain, but as Dave McMenamin notes, in that he has plenty of company. As a result, peer pressure is playing a big role thus far in L.A.'s playoff run:
"...It's easy to say the difference in the Lakers has been all about Bynum. He missed the last 13 games of the regular season because of a strained left Achilles tendon when the Lakers floundered, and now that he's back the Lakers look right again. But what Bynum is doing doesn't make him any more of a warrior than his teammates. There are two requirements to being a Laker these days: be willing to wear yellow and play through whatever pain is ailing you. "I think the thing with the injuries is everybody kind of looks at each other and tries to figure out which one is going to be the first punk," Kobe Bryant said. "Because we will talk about you like a dog, like a chump. So nobody wants to be a chump..."

And while the Lakers are showing toughness, the Jazz have a softie in the middle- Kyrylo Fesenko- forced to face L.A.'s phalanx of giants:
"...Fesenko, who may be the last basketball player to actually wear his wristbands on his wrists, is a nice guy, but that's the problem with the Jazz. They are a roster filled with nice guys and none of them are nicer and softer than their seven-footers who are supposed to be protecting the paint and providing a low post presence. (Kosta) Koufos, who finished with two points as well, is such a softie, he dries himself off and gets dressed away from his locker when there are reporters near his area. If he can't muscle middle-aged scribes out of his area, how is he supposed to fare against the likes of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom..."

Of course, others were ready to weigh in as well. Click below for the rest of the reactions...

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Five things to watch for in Game 2

May, 4, 2010
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
The Lakers, up 1-0 on the Utah Jazz, remain undefeated during these playoffs at Staples Center. For their part, the visitors remain a shorthanded team (no Andrei Kirilenko or Mehmet Okur) and short-sized against L.A. Can the Lakers make it 2-0 before game 3 resumes in seven weeks? Here are five factors I think could shape the outcome:

1) Ron Artest noted during Monday's practice how his quartet of Game 1 layups marked his highest single-game count for the playoffs thus far. This success at the rim comes in conjunction with a recent effort over the last three games by Artest to operate more in the painted area and less from behind the arc. As a result, Artest has grown increasingly more useful as a playmaker (11 assists during that time frame) and decreasingly less problematic as an erratic gunner from outside. Plus, good luck to C.J. Miles or anyone else saddled with the unfortunate task of trying to stop Artest with a head of steam. Shockingly inelegant handle be damned, his forward motion is difficult to thwart.

Artest hinted after Sunday's win there could be mismatches to exploit down low. I hope that instinct is explored. The difference in his triangular comfort level inside the lane vs. spotting up in a corner has appeared night and day different.

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Nick Young
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.4
AssistsK. Bryant 6.3
StealsK. Bryant 1.2
BlocksW. Johnson 1.0