Jazz-Lakers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 27, 2011
For better or worse, the Los Angeles Lakers are quickly getting their lone back-to-back-to-back stretch out of the way. The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, are finally set to take the court in a game that counts. Los Angeles looks to avoid its first 0-3 start in 33 years Tuesday night when it hosts Utah, which becomes the final team to open its season. After blowing an 11-point lead late against Chicago on Christmas, the Lakers (0-2) continued their arduous stretch with a 100-91 loss in Sacramento on Monday, shooting 1 of 16 from 3-point range. Each NBA team will play on three consecutive days at least once due to the lockout-shortened 66-game season, and Los Angeles was forced to face its test right off the bat. "Everyone is going to have to play three straight games and we will have to find a way through this,'' coach Mike Brown said. "We have had a lot of practice, followed by a long day today, but everyone has to go through it as well.'' Kobe Bryant scored 29 points but missed 14 of his 24 shots, while Metta World Peace scored 19 points off the bench. The Lakers haven't lost their first three games since 1978 - the season before they drafted Magic Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick. Bryant wasn't even two months old then. "We have a lot of games left, a lot of games left,'' World Peace said. "Everything is going OK. Everything will be great.'' Los Angeles looks for its first victory against a Utah team it has beaten 25 of the last 28 times at home, including the playoffs. The Jazz, though, come in with extra time to prepare for a season opener without legendary coach Jerry Sloan for the first time since 1988. Utah went 39-43 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time in five years and finishing with a sub-.500 record for the first time since going 26-56 in 2004-05. It was a tumultuous season with as much attention focused off the court as on it. Sloan abruptly retired in February after a reported feud with Deron Williams, who was traded to New Jersey soon after. The Jazz finished 8-20 after Sloan retired to slide out of the postseason picture under new coach Tyrone Corbin, who will seek improvement with a largely inexperienced team. A host of youngsters will play key roles, including 20-year-old Derrick Favors, who came over from the Nets in the Williams trade. He averaged 8.2 points in 20.2 minutes per game after arriving in Utah but will see more time this season, especially after the Jazz traded Mehmet Okur to New Jersey on Thursday. Rookie lottery picks Alec Burks and Enes Kanter should see plenty of minutes as well alongside Gordon Hayward, the No. 9 overall pick from the 2010 draft. Hayward scored a career-high 34 points as Utah closed its season with a 107-103 victory over Denver on April 13. "You see the future out there and the future is bright,'' Burks said. Much like Sloan's teams of the past, though, the veteran presence still remains. Utah will lean heavily on Al Jefferson, who averaged 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds while playing all 82 games for only the second time in his seven-year career. Paul Millsap had a breakout 2010-11 in his fifth season, starting all 76 games he played and averaging 17.3 points and 7.6 boards. Fellow veterans Devin Harris and Raja Bell also figure to give Corbin a balance between youth and experience. "We finished on a high note, won some games,'' Harris said. "But the downfall we had toward the end of last season was unacceptable. We know that, and we're looking forward to getting back at it.'' Utah split four games with Los Angeles last season. The Jazz won 86-85 in L.A. in the most recent meeting April 5 behind 22 apiece from Millsap and Hayward, ending a 17-game losing streak at Staples Center.
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