SALT LAKE CITY — Already down 0-2 in their best-of-seven second-round NBA playoff series with the defending league-champion Los Angeles Lakers, tonight's Game 3 at EnergySolutions Arena is a big deal for the Jazz.
A really big deal.
And it has little to do with the fact no team in NBA history has come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a postseason series.
Rather, it's mostly about size: the Lakers' length and height and how they maximized that in Games 1 and 2.
"They're good," power forward Carlos Boozer said. "They're tall, and they're good."
"They're a long team," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added, "that has an ability to rebound."
An ability to block shots, too, and — when Kobe Bryant isn't scoring from the outside — an ability to pound it inside and pile up points in the paint.
In Game 1, Laker bigs Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom all had 10 or more rebounds — and only Boozer had more than 10 for Utah.
Moreover, Gasol scored 25 — quite a second punch behind Bryant's game-high 31.
In Game 2, Boozer again had 12 boards and backup Paul Millsap had 11 to go with his team-high 26 points.
The Lakers, though, countered with 22 points and 15 boards from Gasol, 17 and 14 from Bynum and 11 and 15 from Odom — the first trio with at least 10 points and 14 rebounds each in a playoff game since 1972.
All that in mind, much talk during the long three-day break between Games 2 and 3 — there's that length issue again — has centered on how the Jazz can improve their play inside.
Three prevailing themes emerged:
1. Getting position
Pushing out Laker bigs so they're not getting the ball so close to the rim, making it easier for Jazz guards and wings to help.
"Pau (Gasol) and Andrew (Bynum) are getting the ball pretty deep, and when they get the ball that deep, it's hard to get the ball out of their hands," point guard Deron Williams said. "So we need to start by having our bigs push them out farther, and then we need to do a better job of helping out and rotating and also boxing out."
Jazz perimeter players should make the Laker entry pass more difficult.
"We talked about position of the guys guarding the ball — doing a better job of pressuring the ball, the pass they throw in, so you can't throw it directly to (Gasol) when he's wide open sometimes low on the block," small forward C.J. Miles said.
"Make (Gasol) have to come our farther to get the ball. And just come quicker on our help stuff," Miles added. "We didn't change anything we're gonna do; just be more crisp at it. Be faster, just try to make (Gasol) think more instead of sitting down there relaxing and going into his move knowing nobody's coming."
Said Sloan: "We've got to do a better job going back to the fundamentals and blocking guys off a little bit better and helping other guys defensively. That all sounds so simple and easy, but this is a great team we're playing against — with great size."
2. Mirror Millsap
Playing more like Millsap did in Game 2.
It sounds rather rudimentary.
"Just trying to get in deep in the interior, trying to get up shots — not (being) focused on their size, not focused on the height — and just going after it," Millsap said.
But, Miles suggested, there's more nuance to it than that.
"(Millsap) does a good job of just using what he has as his abilities," he said. "He's quicker than those guys, he gets off the floor quicker than those guys, so if he can use his strength just to bump them out of the way and get in front, he'll usually get the ball faster.
"He's got long arms, he's got great hands. I mean, he catches anything that gets there. He does a good job of just reading the basketball, reading where the shot comes from and doing his work early — because he knows he's not gonna be able to just out-jump them.
"Then, on plays that are run to him, he just faces the guys up — and they either have to step back because he's quicker and he just shoots it, or if they grab him, he just goes by them," Miles added. "He's done a good job of just mixing it up down there on the block and using head fakes, also — because of those guys thinking they can block all of his shots."
3. Board work
Rebounding, rebounding, rebounding.
L.A. had a 58-40 edge on the boards in Game 2. From guards to bigs, the Jazz must gather loose balls.
"We all can do a better job rebounding," Williams said. "It's not just one guy."
"We've just to get better at what we're doing," Boozer added. "I don't think we have to necessarily change the whole look. But I think we can be a little more physical, if the refs let us."
But just playing with a nose for the ball — a la Millsap — goes far, Wiliams suggested.
"He's always been a great offensive rebounder," the Jazz point said, "and I think he realizes that in this series, he's gonna have to be (one) for us to have success."
Beyond the main themes, there are added points of emphasis for the Jazz.
One is getting more from 7-foot-2 Kyrylo Fesenko, fill-in starter for injured Mehmet Okur. He's played 31 minutes over two games but has just four points, four boards and 2-for-9 field shooting.
"He hopefully plays better at home and gets some confidence in himself to be able to rebound the ball," Sloan said. "As big as he is, he should be able to help us inside some."3 comments on this story
The other is allowing L.A. fewer blocks.
The Lakers swatted 13 shots in Game 2, including four by Bynum and three each from Gasol and Odom.
Cutting down that block count is no easy task, though Sloan on Thursday did offer one idea. "Yeah, we can step on their toes," he said. "Maybe that would help."