Nearly 6,000 miles from the Crypto.com Arena in Limoges, France, a 7-foot-4 basketballer wedged the ball between his skyscraper legs before taking a one-footed three-point shot that whizzed through the rim and evoked an ungodly mix of Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki.
Everyone assumed this was where the Utah Jazz’s attention would lie.
Instead, the team, which traded in Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Bojan Bogdanovic this offseason, is the first in the Western Conference to have seven wins and defeat the lukewarm Lakers in a 130-116 win.
If Utah is organizationally trying to get bottom of the table for French prodigy Victor Wembanyama and the projected No. 1 pick, no one has informed the players.
On Friday, the Jazz were more disciplined, skilful, active and, in a broader sense, much better than the Lakers — a team much more focused on the present.
But it just wasn’t like the Lakers lost — after all, it’s the sixth time it’s happened this season. It was very much like they lost.
“We made a big step backwards tonight,” said Darvin Ham. “…We can’t play like that.”
The Lakers, who had been stunted offensively for almost all of their time together this season, were actually making shots in bulk on Friday.
Successful in his role as the team’s sixth man, Russell Westbrook scored 26 points with just 14 shots, again playing with the power and energy lacking as a miscast starter to yield to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Four others scored at least 12 points and seven players linked in threes.
It was part of one of the Lakers’ best offensive nights of the year.
They hit 42.3% of their three-pointers, were 89.3% on 28 free throws, and scored 48.2% of their total field goals – numbers that would have made them winners in much of their previous plan.
They weren’t even particularly sloppy — 11 turnovers is an acceptable number for a team playing as fast as the Lakers.
“You can’t even be excited,” Ham said.
But everything the Lakers vowed would be the ingredients of their founding — toughness, defensive drive, power and hustle vanished against a team the league as a whole should probably no longer overlook.
“We have a huge laundry list of things to show them tomorrow,” Ham said. “…It was the first game where I felt like we weren’t there defensively.”
Lauri Markkanen, one of the tracks The Jazz from Cleveland recorded for Mitchell, scored 27 points, showing the size and skill that once made him a lottery winner. Another part of the Mitchell deal, Collin Sexton walked past every Lakers defenseman and scored 17 from the bench.
Kelly Olynyk, a short fellow who landed in Utah from Detroit, scored 18 with just 10 shots. Jordan Clarkson, one of the Lakers’ trade targets in Westbrook discussions this summer, had 20. And Mike Conley, the veteran point guard the Lakers didn’t want included in any Westbrook deal scenario, had 15 and 10 assists.
Malik Beasley was one of seven and Rudy Gay missed both shots.
“They played hard and they played together,” Westbrook said.
With Utah scoring 40 points in the first quarter and 75 in the first half, the Lakers were never able to turn off the stubborn scoring tap that yielded at least 30 points in three of the game’s four quarters.
Davis, who was questionable about playing after missing Friday’s shootaround to rest his ailing back, scored 22 points and tucked eight rebounds. James had 17 and Lonnie Walker had 19, although James continued to struggle.
He missed 13 straight three-point shots from the fourth quarter of the Lakers win over Denver. James said he has been dealing with a non-COVID illness for the past week.
If there were positives beyond overall offensive performance, it was Westbrook who continued to build his reputation with Lakers fans after another strong game.
In the fourth quarter, a “We want Westbrook” chant took off. And later in the game, when he was shooting free throws, some fans even chanted “MVP.”
Normally, with the way the Lakers have played this season, it would have been more than good enough. But Friday, against the team that should be in the tank, only managed to allow the Lakers’ flattening to happen more gradually.
“Our defences,” Ham said, “were inept at best.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/lakers/story/2022-11-04/lebron-james-lakers-utah-jazz-recap Fans chant ‘MVP’ for Russell Westbrook in Lakers’ loss to Jazz