Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
After having it relatively easy the past couple weeks — a six-game homestand in which they went 5-1, and a one-game trip Saturday night to Minnesota in which they gave one away to the lowly Timberwolves — times get decidedly rockier for the Jazz in nights to come.
Utah's week ahead features four games in six nights, starting with a visit tonight from San Antonio.
Three games in four nights follow, all against last season's NBA finalists: a road game against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night, a home game against runner-up Orlando Magic on Thursday night and a rematch visit Saturday night from the Lakers.
"This is a pretty tough stretch for us," point guard Deron Williams said.
"But it's a good test for us as well to see where we're at," he added. "We've had some good wins, but against a lot of teams that don't have winning records. So let's see how we do against the top of the league."
First up for the 11-8 Jazz — whose five homestand victories included four over opponents (Detroit, Chicago, Memphis and Indiana) that currently have losing record — is San Antonio.
The Spurs are only 9-8, and Utah already beaten them twice this season.
But the Jazz haven't won a season series from San Antonio since the 1997-98 NBA season, and the Spurs are 29-8 in their last 35 regular-season games vs. Utah — including a 20-game home win streak that ended just last month.
Playing again for San Antonio are Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, both of whom missed that Nov. 18 win there with injuries.
And the Jazz, oh by the way, haven't won three straight over the Spurs since that '97-'98 season.
Wednesday's visit with the Pacific Division-leading Lakers, who eliminated Utah from the first round of last season's NBA playoffs 4-1, is followed by a TNT-televised game with the Southeast Division-leading Magic.
Before addressing all that, though, the Jazz first have to shake Saturday's loss to a Minnesota team that had lost 17 of its first 19 games — and one that finished by scoring on 11 of its final 12 fourth-quarter possessions.
"I haven't thought about the (week) ahead," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I just thought about the loss."
Sloan tried to put it in perspective.
"It's only one loss; not 82 games," he said. "The big thing is hopefully we come back and get ready to play the next game. That's the way this business is. It comes at you fast and furious, and hopefully you've got your mind set to play the game and not be feeling sorry for yourself about this game.
"That's the tough thing, is being able to fight back and play forward — and not backward."
Clearing the head and focusing on the future, though, sometimes is easier said than done.
"I guess we weren't determined enough," Williams said after the unexpected defeat to the Timberwolves. "It looked like they wanted the game a little more than we did."
The loss ended a four-game losing streak for the Jazz, who just finished playing three games in four nights and now face another three in four.
"It's very tough," Williams said in Minnesota. "We wanted to make it five in a row, we wanted to get this one on the road, where we've struggled the last couple years. We've just got to let it go and just focus on these next ones now."
"We'll bounce back from it," power forward Carlos Boozer added. "We're not gonna let this linger. We've got to keep our heads up and keep going forward."
Boozer called the week ahead one filled with games against "elite teams."
"We can't keep our heads down," he said after long sigh. "You know, we've got to keep our heads up and keep fighting together. We've got a big week this week.
"It's a good week. It's a great week (to prove something)," Boozer added. "We've got four great games. ... This is the reason why you play basketball — to play against the best teams in the league. And we've got three of them (this) week."
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