Who’s better: the Utah Jazz (28-15) or the Los Angeles Lakers (27-15)? The teams’ won-loss records are virtually identical. The Jazz have better players at key positions (Deron Williams over Smush Parker, Mehmet Okur over Andrew Bynum, Carlos Boozer over Luke Walton). The Lakers have a superstar and a deeper bench. Both teams are well-coached and play hard. So…who has the edge?OffenseUtah Jazz:
The Jazz are scoring 102.3 PPG, while shooting 47.9 percent from the field, 74.5 from the line, and 32.6 percent from beyond the arc. They dish out 25.0 APG while turning the ball over 15.5 times, giving them a 1.6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. It should be noted that they are ranked second in the league in assists behind Phoenix. They also grab 12.2 offensive rebounds per game, which is 5th best in the league.L.A. Lakers:
The Lakers, on the other hand, score 104.8 PPG on 47.5 percent field goal shooting, 74.3 free throw shooting, and 36.4 three-point shooting. They average 23.2 APG and 16.1 turnovers per game, which is a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. They rank 6th in assists. They grab 10.7 offensive rebounds per game, which is 20th in the league.Bottom Line:
The Lakers score a few more points, and the Jazz do a better job of distributing the ball and crashing the boards.Edge:
The Jazz allow 99.5 PPG. Their opponents shoot 44.8 percent from the field. They grab 30.6 defensive rebounds per game, and their rebounding totals of 42.8 per game tie them for 5th overall in the league. They also average 7 steals and 4.5 blocked shots per game.L.A. Lakers:
The Lakers surrender 103.1 PPG. Opposing teams shoot 46.7 percent from the field. They grab 30.1 defensive rebounds per game, and their total rebounds (40.8) put them at 20th in the league. They average 7.1 steals and 5.4 blocked shots per game.Bottom Line:
Despite their much-publicized difficulty in defending 2-guards, the Jazz are forcing their opponents to shoot a lower percentage and score fewer points.Edge:
The Jazz have a PPG differential of 2.8 (meaning that, on average, they outscore their opponents by 2.8 points per game). This is tied for 5th in the league. Their FGP differential is 3.1 (tied for 2nd best in the league). Their APG differential is 6.2 (they rank 2nd). Utah’s RPG differential is 5.5, which is best in the league. They’re also 1st in defensive rebound differential (3.4) and 3rd in offensive rebound differential (2.1). Their SPG differential –1.0 (29th).L.A. Lakers:
The Lakers’ PPG differential is 1.7, which ranks 9th in the league. Their FGP differential is 0.8 (11th). Their APG differential is 1.3 (9th). L.A.’s RPG differential is –0.7 (19th); their defensive rebound differential (0.3) ranks 14th and their offensive rebound differential (-1.0) ranks 25th. Their SPG differential is –1.4 (last in the league).Bottom Line:
Differentials are a better indicator of team success than the raw numbers, because they illustrate how a team performs relative to its opposition. And, according to the differentials, the Jazz play better against opposing teams than the Lakers do. Relative to their opponents -- and keep in mind that both team play in the Western Conference and therefore face the same foes -- the Jazz score better, shoot better, and rebound better than the Lakers.Edge:
Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan are two of the best in the business. They both get the most out of what they have. Jackson may have the rings, but then again he’s always had the star power to win out.Edge:
The Jazz are a more physical team. Despite the presence of a well-known creampuff (Okur), the Jazz have a number of players (Boozer, Andre Kirilenko, Matt Harpring) who are willing to bang bodies and play rough…and that’s exactly how Jerry Sloan wants it. The Lakers have a couple bangers in Bynum and Kwame Brown, but most of their players (particularly Lamar Odom and Walton) rely on finesse rather than brute strength.
Another important point is that the Lakers have a superstar in Kobe Bryant. That means they have guy who can get clutch shots and (more importantly) clutch calls.Edge:
LakersWhat does it all mean?
Even though the teams are in a dead heat based on the won-loss records and raw data, the Jazz have much better differentials than the Lakers and are a better defensive team (despite the fact that 2-guards have been lighting them up). Night in, night out, the Jazz perform more consistently than the Lakers, who have shown an alarming habit of under-performing against inferior opposition. On the other hand, the Jazz will have a major defensive liability as long as they continue to start Derek Fisher’s corpse at the 2-spot.
With the Jazz, you get the same thing every night: physical play, ball movement, lots of pick and rolls, and a solid inside-outside game. The Lakers are more of a conundrum. Their second-best player has missed a significant chunk of the season due to injury, and their performances are up and down…they’ll beat Dallas one night and loose to the Hornets the next night. Sometimes Kobe defers to his teammates and sometimes he freezes them out. They can beat anybody and lose to anybody.
The biggest problem the Jazz face is their lack of a superstar. They don’t have a closer, and they don’t get calls in critical situations. Take three of their last four losses. Two were in overtime (one of which was decided by a buzzer-beater at the end of the overtime session), and another came on buzzer-beating 3-point shot from waaaay downtown, courtesy of Gilbert Arenas. Earlier this season, the Jazz lost to New York in overtime on a buzzer-beating layup by Stephon Marbury, and they lost two other games by one point each. If they have a closer, that’s a potential six game swing in the won-loss column…which is huge.
My final word is this: The teams are very, very close. Overall, I think the Jazz are the better team but the Lakers have a trump card in Kobe Bryant. If they get matched up in the first round, either team could win, but, as much as it pains me to say this, I see the calls…and the series…ultimately going to the…
Forget it. I can’t say it. But I think the numbers prove that this Jazz team isn't a fluke or a fraud. They're going to be in the mix all season, and once the playoffs get here, well, anything can happen.