In the immortal words of the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair: “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.”
For the Utah Jazz, they take their shot against “the man” of the NBA -- the reigning defending champions Los Angeles Lakers this Thursday, 11:00 AM live on NBA TV Philippines.
Fresh from a 132-110 win against Gordon Hayward and the Charlotte Hornets, Utah continues to ascend to the top of the NBA ladder. Their gaudy record is buoyed by the fact that they’ve won nine games out of the past 10, and they’re in the midst of pulling away from the rest of the pack with a 25-6 record.
The Jazz’s unique blend of high-level defense and unselfish dynamic basketball continues to confound the rest of the NBA. They are still led by newly-minted All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, who should be playing with even more confidence now that they’ve made the big game’s lineup this coming March. Mitchell, in particular, was instrumental for the Jazz in their 11-point comeback against the Hornets, as he tallied 23 points and eight assists in the contest.
"The No. 1 team in the league wins a game like that," Mitchell said. "That's really where our head is at. That's where we need to continue to be."
Where the Jazz are right now is where the Lakers wish they were. The champs have been reeling as of late, with the absences of Anthony Davis (achilles) and Dennis Schroeder (Covid protocol) seriously hampering their rhythm and rotation.
Consider the Lakers’ battle against the Washington Wizards, a team that on paper LeBron and company should have no problem taking down. But with Davis not around to protect the paint, and some sorry free throw misses down the stretch for James, the Wizards were able to rally back from 17 points down in the second half to pull out the win in overtime, 127-124.
“You don't want to lose to an under .500 team like that, but this is the NBA and anybody can win,” Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said. “We just have to figure it out."
The disastrous loss was the Lakers’ fourth in their last five games. James has done his best to keep the Lakers’ ship afloat in these choppy waters, evidenced by his 31 points, nine rebounds, and 13 assists.
But without Schroeder and Davis, James might have to do even more to elevate the Lakers to a victory against the best team in the NBA. Will the King rise to the challenge against the Jazz?