SALT LAKE CITY — They simply haven't had the size to combat that of the Los Angeles Lakers, and still might not.
Al Jefferson fired the first salvo in the war against that assertion Friday night, scoring 20 points and pulling down eight rebounds while logging 41 minutes in the Jazz's 102-96 win over the two-time defending NBA champions.
"That's no longer an excuse," said Jefferson, who was acquired in the offseason from Minnesota to beef up Utah's front line after two-time NBA All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer bolted for Chicago. "You know, that's the way I look at it: It's no longer an excuse as far as the Lakers' size on us."
The Lakers did play Friday without injured big man Andrew Bynum, who is recovering from knee surgery.
But, Jefferson shot right back in response to that point, saying when center Mehmet Okur, who still is recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, "gets back for us, we're gonna be even bigger."
"So, you know, to me, that's just not an excuse no more," he said.
Three more regular-season meetings in 2010-11, and perhaps yet another playoff series — the Lakers have eliminated the Jazz from each of the past three postseasons — will permit that debate to soon play out over a much broader sample pool.
In any event, there is no arguing the fact Friday's win over L.A. was a huge one for Jefferson personally.
During his three seasons in Minnesota, the Timberwolves never did muster a win against the Lakers. And Jefferson hasn't tasted the postseason since his rookie season with the Boston Celtics in 2004-05.
"And it felt like a playoff game," the Mississippi native said of Friday's meeting, one in which the Jazz overcame an early 19-point deficit. "Every possession count. And Kobe Bryant being who he is, you know? We was down. We fought back. We didn't give up. We won against all odds, and it's just amazing, man.
"I'm overwhelmed right now," added Jefferson, who yelled into a towel shortly after conducting a postgame interview while confetti from high above him fell to the EnergySolutions Arena floor. "It's never been like this before, and to be a part of it — it just meant a lot to me."
Jefferson wound up 9-for-18 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line, with the two foul shots being key ones that put Utah up 91-90 with three minutes and 22 seconds to go.
More than individual numbers and effort, though, it's the sense of a team finally jelling that seems to satisfy Jefferson most.
The 12-5 Jazz have won four straight, a span in which Jefferson has scored 19 or more each time out, and 10 of their last 12.
That includes a four-game road trip earlier this month in which Utah rallied to win, something that seemed to kickstart the bonding process.14 comments on this story
"We're coming together. We know what it takes," said Jefferson, who was matched against Lakers' big man Pau Gasol most of the night. "We know that if we can play great defense, rebound, and run the floor, (and) get stops ... it's been working for us.
"And when the Lakers went up 19 on us, we didn't panic. We done been here before. We know how to adjust to that."
No matter how much bigger the opposition may be.