Utah Jazz Shut Down Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant in NBA Preseason Opener

In a NBA preseason game that marked the return of Kobe Bryant and Alec Burks, the Utah Jazz defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 90-71 on Sunday.

In front of a sold-out crowd in Honolulu at the University of Hawaii campus, as reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, Burks (of the Jazz) and Bryant (of the Lakers) each played their first game in nine months. The Utah Jazz point guard went 0-for-5 from the floor in Utah’s winning effort, with three assists and four rebounds in just 22 minutes of play. Bryant, a shooting guard, ended up with five points after going 1-for-5 from the floor, a three-pointer his only field goal.

The last time Burks played for the Utah Jazz was in December 2014, before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his 2014-15 NBA season with Utah. A first-round draft pick for the Jazz in the 2011 NBA Draft, Burks started all 27 games for Utah last season before he was sidelined. Without Burks, the Utah Jazz failed to make the playoffs last season, finishing third in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference.

While Burks may be back on the court for the Jazz, they are still trying to rebuild their starting backcourt for the 2015-16 season. Utah Jazz starter Dante Exum tore his ACL while playing for the Australian national team in August. He is expected to miss the entire season for the Jazz.

As KSL’s Andy Larsen points out, Brazillian guard Raul Neto played great defense for the Utah Jazz on Sunday. Neto is trying to earn some serious playing time during his first season with the Jazz. Drafted by the Hawks in 2013, he was traded to Utah on draft night, but returned to Brazil. He officially signed with the Jazz this past July.

On Sunday, Neto had four steals for Utah in 20 minutes of play, two of which came in a span of about fifteen seconds. While he also had no field goals, shooting 0-for-3, the Jazz guard had six assists and a pair of free throws before the game ended. Neto and Burks going a combined 0-for-8 from the field and totaling a whopping two points may have some Jazz fans nervous about their backcourt as the 2015-16 season approaches.

If Sunday’s game is any indication, however, Trey Burke can handle some scoring for Utah from the guard position, as he ended up with 10 points. Gordon Hayward, who can play small forward or guard, ended up with 11 points for the Jazz. Utah big men Derrick Favors, Trevor Booker, and Rudy Gobert combined for a total of 35 points.

After several years of rebuilding, are the 2015-16 Utah Jazz going to be the first squad to make it to the playoffs since the 2011-12 line-up that lost four straight in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs? With they be able to get the first playoff win for the storied Utah Jazz since the opening round of the 2009-10 NBA post-season? In the earlier half of the last decade, the Utah Jazz were a perennial playoff team, appearing five out of six years starting with the 2006-07 season. After making it to the Conference Finals that year, the Jazz would make it to the post-season the following three years as well.

The Utah Jazz have six preseason games left to try to figure out who they will start when their NBA season officially begins on October 28. They’ll open the regular season in Detroit against the Pistons. Detroit struggled in the 2014-15 NBA season as well, finishing last in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference.

The Utah Jazz play the Los Angeles Lakers in Honolulu one more time tomorrow and then travel back to the mainland to play the Suns in Phoenix on October 9.

[Image credit Alex Goodlett/Getty Images]