Al Jefferson is a strong scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for the Jazz (Rick Bowmer / Associated…)
The Lakers (17-25) play the Utah Jazz (23-19) for the third and final time this season Friday night at Staples Center.
Dwight Howard is expected to start at center, surviving a scare against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday when he re-aggravated his injured shoulder.
The Lakers lost, 95-86, in Utah on Nov. 7 with the Jazz getting a big night from Randy Foye off the bench. That early in the season, the Lakers were playing without Steve Nash in a rare Steve Blake appearance. It was also the final game Mike Brown coached the team.
The second meeting was at Staples Center on Dec. 9. After Utah took a big second-quarter lead, the Lakers stormed back and nearly caught the Jazz but fell 117-110. Once again the Lakers played without Nash along with Pau Gasol (tendinitis).
Paul Millsap and Mo Williams were the big scorers, leading six Utah players in double figures.
Now the Lakers are relatively healthy, albeit without Jordan Hill and Blake. The Jazz lost Williams to a thumb injury, starting Jamaal Tinsley instead.
The Lakers need an assertive, efficient Dwight Howard. The Jazz have capable bigs in Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Millsap.
Howard has struggled recently, both with injury and with fit. The Lakers have had trouble finding him in the post and the Nash/Howard pick and roll has seemingly disappeared.
Jefferson is a strong scorer, rebounder and shot blocker for the Jazz. Stopping him (and Millsap) could help the Lakers break their losing streak.
Gordon Hayward always seems to play well against the Lakers, both offensively and defensively. His outside shooting and energy are seemingly at their best whenever he plays the Lakers. Randy Foye is another player to watch.
The Lakers need Gasol to find his way, coming off the bench. He's performed well since his concussion. Against the size of Utah, they'll need a big contribution from their versatile forward/center.
The Lakers should be able to beat the Jazz at home, but recently they haven't inspired any confidence. Pencil it in as a Lakers victory but have that eraser on standby.
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Email Eric Pincus at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.