They're like a well-oiled machine. It's a good test for us. We've just got to make sure we're up for the fight. We can't lay down to them, because they are who they are. —Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin
SAN ANTONIO — Earlier this season, Earl Watson, all 73 inches and 199 pounds of him, stood up to 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki when he didn't like how the big German treated a teammate.
Months later, Watson openly invited 6-foot-11 DeMarcus Cousins, who is more menacing than the Mavs' MVP, to bump into him like he had against Devin Harris on multiple occasions.
So, if you think going up against an NBA powerhouse like the San Antonio Spurs intimidates the Jazz's feisty spark plug, well, please re-read those first two sentences.
Sure, the Spurs have won 10 games in a row.
Yes, they've had the Jazz's number this season and over the years.
And Utah is well aware coaching wizard Gregg Popovich has worked his magic to turn his crew into the Western Conference's best team and a legit NBA title contender.
But Watson — and his teammates — say the underdog Jazz aren't about to back down now that an imposing San Antonio squad stands in their way for the next two games.
"To get to the playoffs you can't run from certain teams," Watson said. "You have to face every challenge and embrace it."
The Jazz better bear hug the heck out of the Spurs during their important back-to-back set today in Alamo Country and Monday in the Beehive State.
One or two wins should keep Utah in the mix as it remains a couple of games in the loss column behind Houston and Denver, and only a game in the loss column behind Dallas for the final playoff spots.
Getting swept by the Spurs could be disastrous for Utah's postseason hopes, considering the rough week the Jazz have even after their Texas two-step.
After their quick home pit stop Monday, they head back to the Lone Star State for a critical contest against Houston on Wednesday, followed by their final back-to-back of the season in New Orleans (where they lost in February) and at Memphis (a surging squad).
For now, the "just take it one game at a time" line both Watson and Harris rattled off this weekend seems appropriate.
Which brings the Jazz back to San Antonio for this Sunday night showdown.
"Nothing in the NBA is going to be easy. We look forward to the challenge," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "We've just got to find a way and dig deep and find a way to win these games. We've got to find a way to do it. They can be beat."
The Jazz must — say it together — find a way to beat a team that hasn't lost in three weeks, has won 13 of 14 games and has downed Utah twice already this season.
"Obviously they're playing pretty well right now," Harris said, noting the Spurs pounded the Mardi Gras out of New Orleans on Friday. "They can be beat, but we've got to come out aggressive and deliver punches just like we're going to take them. ... Be passive, (and) they're going to knock you out very early."
The problem, however, is the Spurs aren't just talented. They're basketball-savvy. With Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, they've got a lot of championship experience.
With Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Daniel Green, Kawhi Leonard and Matt Bonner, they've got an abundance of complementary pieces.
And don't forget their two midseason acquisitions, who have made the rich all the richer while reminding the NBA how shrewd a front office the organization employs.
Watson called the quiet addition of Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw via trades "two of the best pickups no one talks about."
Added the Jazz guard: "That's a deep, quality team."
From the subs to their head coach, the Jazz know they have to be on their A games to have a chance at snatching a win or two.
Corbin deeply respects Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and his staff, who always seem to make the right in-game adjustments. Not only that, but the Spurs have managed to keep their aging stalwarts relatively well-rested and healthy by using a wide variety of players off the bench and giving timely days off. (The Jazz can only hope Duncan gets a DNP-OLD in one of the games.)
"They're like a well-oiled machine," Corbin said. "It's a good test for us. We've just got to make sure we're up for the fight. We can't lay down to them, because they are who they are."
When it comes to pregame talk, the Jazz, who have won two of three games, are saying the right things. They're taking the old beat-the-best-to-be-the-best saying to heart.
"I thought we played 'em well last time we played 'em here (in Utah). We had a chance to win it," Jefferson said, referring to San Antonio's 106-102 win at EnergySolutions Arena on Feb. 20. "I think that if we come out with our mind right and play hard, I think we have a chance to beat 'em."
Otherwise, a repeat of the Spurs' one-sided 104-89 New Year's Eve bashing might be duplicated.1 comment on this story
Watson, who credited San Antonio for repeatedly sneaking up on the league, believes Utah will have to show "mental toughness" because the Spurs don't make many mistakes, so the Jazz have to pounce on them when they do.
"When they don't make mistakes," he added, "we have to find a way to continue to stay in the game and be assertive and productive."
Don't back down.
Stand up to the bigger guy.
Relish the challenge.
Hope to catch the heavy favorites off guard.
But after a down-and-up couple of weeks in which they've lost five of eight games and fallen out of a playoff spot, are the Jazz up to it?
"Yeah," Watson said without hesitating. "We have no choice."