Simple strategy: When Utah's big man is getting the ball in the basket, the team is more likely to win
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A quick scouting report on tonight's Jazz-Lakers game: One guy, a fabulous offensive talent, tends to shoot more than anybody else on his team, so wins and losses naturally tend to track along with how many of his shots fall. Stop him, in other words, and victory is assured.
Oh, and Kobe Bryant will be there, too.
Maybe it's not exactly a perfect parallel, considering Bryant, the league's second-leading scorer, has hoisted as many shots in the past six games as Mehmet Okur has all season. But Okur may be almost as indispensable to the Jazz as Bryant is to the 5-8 Lakers.
Utah is 5-2 when Okur is its leading scorer, and 1-7 when it is someone else. More intriguing, the Jazz are 6-2 when Okur attempts 15 or more shots, and 0-7 when he does not.
So how hard can coaching be? You want to win, just tell "Memo" to shoot, right?
If only it was that simple.
Teams "try to double-team more attention on me now," said Okur, who has been limited to eight points in each of the Jazz's past two games, both losses. "It's harder to be open, so I'm trying to swing the ball to whoever is wide open."
That's not exactly the tactic used by Bryant, who has yet to attempt fewer than 18 shots in a game (a level reached by Okur only twice) and has more field-goal attempts than any three Laker teammates combined. As Laker coach Phil Jackson put it Wednesday afternoon, "This is an equal-opportunity offense, and right now it's not very equal."
Perhaps surprisingly, that's not exactly the strategy endorsed by Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, either. Sure, the Jazz prefer open shots above all. But the coach is working to make Okur more flexible, and logical, in his shot selection. Don't take fewer shots, Sloan has told Okur - in fact, take more. But take better ones.
Okur is a terrific outside shooter, probably the Jazz's best. But Sloan worries that, with teams increasingly scouting his leading scorer and focusing on limiting his touches, Okur is too willing to lean on those flat-footed 20-footers. "When you have to rely on strictly outside stuff, that can be taken away," Sloan said. "We've seen that lately," as Golden State and Indiana limited Okur to eight and nine shots, nearly all of them jumpers.
The answer: Take advantage of matchups that allow the 6-foot-11 Turk to post up.
"When teams take away your spot," Sloan said, "go find another spot where you can be effective."
For instance, Okur was guarded by Austin Croshere, a couple of inches shorter and nearly 20 pounds lighter, during much of Tuesday's loss to the Pacers. Yet the Jazz forward drifted out toward the perimeter most of the night, despite Sloan's urging to set up down low.
"You have to recognize, 'If I've got a smaller guy, I've got to step to the basket,' " Sloan said. "That gets you to the free-throw line, or makes them take that away from you. And you've got a lot of options."
Of course, the Jazz don't have too many offensive options, which is part of the problem, too. Only Greg Ostertag, who tries just three shots per night, most of them putbacks, is making more than half of his shots, and only he and Okur are better than 45 percent.
That means Okur's vows to shift his attention to other tasks besides scoring when defenses attack him - "I don't want to push it, so if I don't score, I'm going to play defense, get offensive boards, set screens," Okur said dutifully - is often counterproductive.
The emergence of another reliable offensive weapon, whether it's Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Gordan Giricek or someone else, would seem to be critical. Okur said his Turkish National Team was at its best when it played a two-man game, with he and Orlando forward Hedo Turkoglu forcing defenses to choose a target, then swinging the ball to the other.
"I don't force it. If I wait, shots come," Okur said.
For the Jazz, the sooner, the better.
Tonight, 8:30 p.m., TNT