Utah Jazz and L.A. Lakers heading in different directions
Tom Smart, Deseret News
LOS ANGELES — There's no doubt the Los Angeles Lakers have more star power than the Utah Jazz.
Kobe Bryant. Steve Nash. Dwight Howard. Metta World Peace. Pau Gasol. Robert Sacre.
The Lakers also have a lot more inner turmoil, more on-the-court mayhem and more losses than the team that can complete a first-ever regular season sweep of them when the two tangle tonight at Staples Center.
Like the cities they call home, these squads from Los Angeles and Salt Lake City couldn't be any more different from each other.
They're certainly heading in different directions in the NBA standings.
The starless Jazz (23-19) are one of the league's hottest teams, having climbed up to the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference with four straight wins and victories in seven of their last nine games.
The star-studded Lakers (17-25) are arguably the worst team in the NBA for the time being, having lost four consecutive and stumbling and grumbling in 10 of 12 games while falling out of the playoff picture.
Even so, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is focusing much more on the talent included in the second paragraph rather than the struggles that have made the preseason powerhouse the laughingstock of the league.
"The talent that’s on that team, you would think at some point they’re going to get it figured out," Corbin said. "You just don’t want it to be against you."
A win, however, would mark the first time the Jazz have beaten the Lakers in all of their regular season meetings.
Utah's success against L.A. dates back to the last two games of the 2011-12 season. The Jazz have beaten them twice this year, including at Staples Center, so they bring multiple four-game winning streaks into this showdown.
"Really? It would mean a lot. It would be the first time it’d be done, so I’d be glad I can be a part of it," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said of the season-sweep possibility.
"It being the Lakers, that (would) add a little bit extra onto it."
Of course, it wasn't too long ago that the Jazz were in free-fall mode. Between Dec. 14-30, Utah lost seven of nine games and its starting point guard. They looked as discombobulated as the Lakers do now.
The new year brought about new results for the Jazz, though. In 2013, they have gone 8-2 to get themselves back into playoff positioning at the midpoint of the season.
While he doesn't want to delve into what is going on with Mike D'Antoni's loaded team, Corbin credits his team's turnaround to the "great character" of his squad.
"These guys are proud guys. They want to win," Corbin said. "They understand the sacrifice that we all have to make, they all have to make, to (let) us as a team have a chance to be successful, and that’s sharing the ball, playing the minutes that you play and just being a good teammate that way."
Though the Jazz have eight players in the final season of their contract (not counting Raja Bell), Utah has rallied around each other in a team-first movement.
Selflessness has turned into success.
"At the end of the day, when you have a great group of guys that will support you through the thick and thin, it’s kind of hard not to keep things together," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "Everybody respect each other. Everybody love each other. We get along well. It’s a family and everybody’s got the same goal."
The biggest difference between this flourishing Jazz team and the floundering Jazz team?
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