Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Things probably won't be pleasant when they battle it out against each other tonight at EnergySolutions Arena.
Especially not for Utah Jazz fans, who love to loathe the Los Angeles Lakers, and vice versa.
But the Jazz and Lakers had nothing but complimentary things to say about each other at their morning shootarounds — from coaches Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson, to stars Kobe Bryant and Deron Williams.
Heck, Jackson and Bryant even gave some of their sworn enemies — Jazz fans — some props.
"I enjoy coming here. The fans here are nuts," Bryant said. "This place is loud, and Utah, they play extremely well here."
Added Jackson: "I always tell players, 'Don't get too far ahead against the Utah team or Jerry's going to wrap them up here in this arena. He's going to get the fans, including the referees, involved in this, so be very careful what you ask for.'"
There were more compliments for the teams and players:
Williams on the Lakers' top two threats, Bryant and Pau Gasol: "Kobe definitely is the best player in basketball. I think you could argue Pau is the MVP of this team this year."
Bryant on Williams, his 2008 U.S. men's Olympic teammate: "It's my opinion that he's always been the best point guard in the league. His size, his ballhandling abilities, defensive ability makes him tough. He gives us huge headaches every time we face him."
Sloan on the two-time defending champions, who bring a 13-2 record into this 7 p.m. game against the surging 11-5 Jazz: "They're a terrific team. They've got about everything you need. They've got size, and that's where we've had the biggest problem with them at times."
Jackson on Sloan's Jazz clubs: "His team consistently does a good job of passing the ball and sharing the ball and playing team basketball. I think that's really a hallmark of his great coaching."
The Jazz also said they hope to find a way to deal with the Lakers' length, highlighted by 7-foot Gasol and 6-10 Lamar Odom, and overall talent.
They're curious to see if newcomer big men Al Jefferson and Francisco Elson will help them counter L.A.'s height and rebounding prowess.
"I think it's the best team in basketball regardless of records. They're the defending champs," Williams said. "They've been together for years now. I feel like they've gotten better, so this is a good test for us."
One key, Williams added, is not letting the Lakers go on a big, back-breaking run, which Utah saw way too often while getting swept in the first round last spring. Los Angeles has beaten the Jazz six consecutive times as well.
"We play good against them except for like one little stretch where they just blow us out of the water," Williams said. "We just have to stay poised and a lot of that is mental. If they make a little run, you can't hang your heads, you can't start panicking because you know it's going to happen. They're too good of a team to not make runs.
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