It was not the prettiest of games, but a win is a win. A night after their six-game winning streak came to an end, the Utah Jazz started a new one, eking out an 80-73 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Why the Jazz won: Utah struggled in several facets of the game, but its defense, which has been the hallmark of its recent success, was very much present. While they were uncharacteristically a bit sloppy inside, the Lakers outscored the Jazz 46-22 in the paint. They swarmed on the perimeter, causing some timely turnovers. Additionally, Gordon Hayward was clearly the best player in the game, and sometimes that alone is enough to push a team to the win.
Turning point: It was a tight game throughout much of the evening, especially in the fourth quarter. The Jazz held a 72-71 lead with 2:30 left when Trey Burke made a pair of huge shots to give Utah a little breathing room. Hayward added a pair of free throws, and that 6-0 run helped the Jazz finish on top.
What it means: Any road win is great, no matter how it happens. The rebuilding Lakers are having a rough season, but that did not stop them from handing Utah one of its three losses (Feb. 25) since the All-Star break. That loss probably lingered a bit for head coach Quin Snyder and his team. While the performance was rough around the edges, it was easy to see that the Jazz wanted to dole out a little payback.
Grading the performance: Hayward stuffed the stat sheet, recording 22 points, five assists, five rebounds and four steals. Their numbers were less impressive, but Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert offered some imposing defense in the fourth quarter. The Jazz bench was excellent, playing with a much-needed energy and hustle. Burke chipped in 17 points, having his best game in a while. Trevor Booker had a nice all-around game and tallied 10 points, while Joe Ingles added nine.
Utah Jazz grade: B
Once again, the somewhat odd Lakers roster gave Utah some fits. With guys like Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, Steve Nash and Ronnie Price out, several players are getting opportunities to show what they can do. Tarik Black, Jordan Clarkson and Ed Davis were solid. In the end, the Jazz’s talent advantage was key. Former Jazzman Carlos Boozer had 11 points off the bench for the Lakers.
Los Angeles Lakers grade: B-
Three telling stats:
— While it was a low-scoring affair, the Jazz offense assisted on 19 of their 25 made field goals (76 percent).
— It was a rough night for Utah’s starting backcourt of Dante Exum and Rodney Hood. The pair of rookies combined to go 0 for 11 from the floor for a total of two points in 44 collective minutes. The duo has been playing very well of late, so will look to bounce back Saturday.
— The Jazz were aggressive, getting to the free-throw line frequently. While the accuracy was again lacking — 21 of 31 — they were +13 from the charity stripe.
Up next: The Jazz stay in California this weekend, taking on Stephen Curry and the red-hot Golden State Warriors. Even though All-Star guard Klay Thompson is out nursing an injury, there is more than enough firepower in the Bay Area. The Warriors currently have the No. 1 offense and defense in the NBA, a truly remarkable achievement. Curry could easily come away with this year’s Most Valuable Player Award. Utah will be rested, which is a good thing given its next opponent.
David Smith provides instant analysis for Deseret News' Utah Jazz coverage. He works for LDS Philanthropies and also writes for Salt City Hoops (ESPN's Jazz affiliate). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at davidjsmith1232.