NBA: Jazz-Lakers Preview Capsule
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
A look at the Western Conference semifinal series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, which begins Sunday (with regular-season and playoff records):
No. 1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (57-25, 4-2) vs. No. 5 UTAH JAZZ (53-29, 4-2).
Season series: Lakers, 3-1. The Lakers' average margin of victory in their three wins was 17.7 points. The teams split a pair of meetings four days apart in December, then Los Angeles won the last two by 15 and 14 points. That included a 96-81 victory at Salt Lake City on Feb. 10, snapping Utah's nine-game winning streak, when Kobe Bryant was sitting out to rest his injured ankle.
Storyline: After needing six games to oust Oklahoma City in the first round, the Lakers move on to their third playoff meeting with Utah in three years. The Lakers knocked off the Jazz in the second round in 2008 and rolled past them in five games in the first round last year.
Key Matchup 1: Pau Gasol vs. Carlos Boozer. Gasol, whose follow shot with 0.5 seconds left in Game 6 against Oklahoma City sent Los Angeles to the second round, was dominant against the Jazz during the regular season, averaging 17.8 points and 16.8 rebounds. He had 22 points and 19 boards to carry the Lakers in the game Bryant missed. Boozer almost certainly has to be better than he was against the Lakers, when he was held to 12 points or fewer three times, making 5 of 16 shots in one loss and 4-of-13 in another.
Key Matchup II: Lamar Odom vs. Paul Millsap. Two of the top reserve forwards in the league, who often play starters' minutes. After two quiet games, Odom scored 25 and 26 points in the final two meetings with the Jazz. He wasn't sharp in the first round, managing only 7.8 points on 42 percent shooting, with coach Phil Jackson saying at one point he needed to play better. Millsap averaged 17.3 points on 61 percent shooting during an impressive opening round against Denver.
X-Factor: Wesley Matthews. The rookie scored 23 points in the Game 6 clincher against Denver, but shot only 39 percent in the series. If he can produce in this series, it could prevent the Lakers from using Bryant to defend Deron Williams, who averaged 25.8 points and 11.3 assists in a sizzling first round. Matthews scored 19 in Utah's lone regular-season win over Los Angeles.
Prediction: Lakers in 6.T