PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — With all of the height hype and hoopla about the Los Angeles Lakers' length advantage, one not-so-small thing has seemingly managed to go unnoticed.
Between the two teams, the Utah Jazz have the tallest player.
Kyrylo Fesenko, Utah's 7-foot-1 starting center, just didn't play like it in Game 1.
And — after grabbing only one rebound, scoring all of two points and blocking nary a Laker shot in 13 minutes — he knows it.
"I'm bigger than they are, so it's not about the size or the weight," said the 300-pound Fesenko at practice Monday.
It is, he added, about being "more aggressive" and establishing himself as a big force early on. Kinda like he did for periods while being recognized for his beefy and big presence and solid play during the Denver series rather than for his one-liners and goofy antics. You know, when he even got Carmelo Anthony to repeat his name in frustration.
"I want to get back on track," Fesenko said, "play my game, get much more physical, play better defensively and just do my job."
For Fesenko, that includes: "Definitely more rebounds, more blocks, more fouls — I have a long way to go, and I'm not happy with my (Sunday) game."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan acknowledged that his third-year center has plenty of room to improve, but for now, he's sticking with this Plan B in the injured Mehmet Okur's absence.
"We haven't cut him. It sounds like we just cut the guy with everybody's questions," Sloan quipped. "No, he'll start (Tuesday) and hopefully play much better."
Fesenko admitted that he struggles when matched up with the quicker Pau Gasol, one of the Lakers' 7-footers. Gasol had 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in Game 1.
Then again, who doesn't struggle against Gasol?
But Fes likes his matchup with Andrew Bynum, the other 7-foot Laker. He plans on trying to body the banged-up L.A. big more before he gets the ball while keeping him away from the post, where he's tougher to handle.
Sloan called Fesenko's Game 1 flop "the hard knocks of the NBA," but the coach says the key to bouncing back is simply to realize what the Jazz are trying to do and then to do it.
"We want him to succeed," Sloan said. "... But he has to do the work."
The 23-year-old Fesenko isn't the only inexperienced guy Sloan has had to reteach and remind what the team has tried to run over the years.
"If he knows what we're doing, he has to do it," Sloan said. "And that's all younger players, that's not just him. You run into that with a lot of young players, and some guys are faster picking it up than others, but that's the way your patience gets tested in working with him."16 comments on this story
And Fesenko, Mr. Patience-Tester himself, understands he's capable of contributing more than he did Sunday.
"I need to play better," he said. "I know I can."
The Nuggets do, too. Now the Jazz just need the Lakers to realize it as well.