SALT LAKE CITY — The Los Angeles Lakers are in town.
That conjures up a wide variety of thoughts for the Utah Jazz, who are on a five-game winning streak going into the 7 p.m. MT tipoff at EnergySolutions Arena.
Five things on the Jazz's minds at today's shootaround prep session for this rematch:
Utah lost its season-opener at Staples Center to the Lakers, and it wasn't even close — 96-71. Both teams are arguably better now, especially the streaking Jazz. They've reeled off five wins in a row and bring a 6-3 record into this one against the 7-4 Lakers, winners of three straight.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said his players trust each other more on offense and defense. Game experience and confidence are other assets Utah has that it didn't two weeks ago.
"We're continuing to grow," Corbin said. "You've got to expect to be good or you won't ever be good. We expect maximum effort every night we step on the floor, and they've been giving the effort. As a result, we've been getting good results."
Of Utah's six wins, only one came against a team that currently has a winning record (Philadelphia is 7-2). Playing the Lakers is a good measuring stick for multiple reasons. They're a top-notch opponent, and they walloped the Jazz two weeks ago.
"This is a huge test. This is one of the best teams in the league," Corbin said. "They've proven that they can win it all and that they can win big."
The Lakers have a new (to them) coach in Mike Brown, but they boast oodles of veteran experience in their core group of Kobe Bryant (15 years), Derek Fisher (15), Pau Gasol (10) and Andrew Bynum (six).
"They've been together and they know what it takes to be one of the best teams in the league," Corbin added. "You've got to measure where you are against teams like this. It's not going to be an easy task. They beat us pretty good the first game of the year and we think we're better from that, but we've got to go out and show it now."
Jazz center Al Jefferson struggled mightily against 7-footer Pau Gasol in the last match-up, missing 14 of 16 shots. And the Lakers have their other 7-foot standout back in Andrew Bynum, who was suspended for the first one.
Jefferson has shot 57 percent and averaged 21.8 points since that dud of season debut.
"One thing I do notice against Pau and Bynum, I can't body them up like that," Big Al said. "They (are) long. They don't go for the ball fakes because they don't have to, so I need to use my quickness on them instead of trying to body them up and trying to overpower them."
Utah has more size to throw at the Lakers than in previous years with youngsters Derrick Favors (6-10) and Enes Kanter (6-11) backing up Paul Millsap (6-8) and Jefferson (6-10).
Bryant scored 48 points in the Lakers' win at Phoenix on Tuesday night — a nice reminder of what the 33-year-old is capable of doing.
"Kobe is Kobe. You ask around this league and a lot of people will say he's probably the best player in this league," Corbin said. "He's a guy (who) had 48 last night, well, he's going to try to get 50 tonight. You can't relax on him because he had a game last night. You've got to know that he's a killer. He's going to try to come after your gut, so you've got to try to match his intensity."
Backup point guard Earl Watson played his college ball at UCLA and lives in Los Angeles during the offseason. He's well aware Utah's home arena will have plenty of purple and gold in the stands next to the Jazz fans he loves so much.
"Playing at UCLA, we always had fans (on the road) like that. I loved it," Watson said. "Now that I'm on the other side, it's like, 'Who sold their tickets?' C'mon I thought we had faithful fans. They (Lakers) always have a nice fanbase when they travel. It's part of their game. It's disappointing."
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