The shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers aim for the top of the Western Conference in Saturdayâs showdown with the visiting Utah Jazz. After finally losing at home to the Washington Wizards, the vengeful Jazz exploded back into the win column with back-to-back wins over the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers, on the other hand, have managed to stay afloat with a revolving door of guys coming and going on a nightly basis. They recently dropped a 121-113 loss at home to the Boston Celtics.
You could feel the air suck out of the Vivint Smart Home Arena when an ailing Donovan Mitchell was helped off the court with what looked like a serious injury on Friday night. Fortunately for the Jazz, the perennial All-Starâs x-rays were negative, and he is believed to be dealing with a âlow ankle sprain.â
The meteoric rise of the Jazz can be attributed to Micthellâs evolution into a legitimate superstar. While the rest of the league is looking to build championship teams with loaded rosters, the Jazz have pieced together a competitive contender with an old school approach. Itâs a team with one superstar and a bunch of talented, complementary pieces that work well together.
The real test for the Jazz comes in the aftermath of Mitchellâs injury. Can they maintain the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference without their best player on the floor? Even if it isnât a significant injury, heâs sure to miss some time.
They closed the deal against the Pacers, and now, theyâll try to beat the defending champion Lakers on the road on Saturday. The Jazz still have a huge advantage from a personnel standpoint against the banged-up Lakers. Granted, they could still face some defensive resistance with even the role players in Los Angeles overachieving on that end of the floor.
But then again, the Jazz arenât the No. 3-ranked scoring offense just because of Mitchell. Theyâre going to need Bojan Bogdanovic to continue to step up like he did against the Pacers, along with guards Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley. Rudy Gobert will also have his hands full on the boards against a Lakers team with Andre Drummond and Montrezl Harrell surveying the paint area.
However, nothing is as important as the defensive dominance continuing for the Jazz. It has kept the Lakers afloat without their two stars, and it could do the same for the Utah without Mitchell.