Matt Gade, Deseret News
LOS ANGELES — For a young, rebuilding ballclub like the Utah Jazz, the NBA regular season can be an 82-game roller-coaster ride filled with exhilarating highs one day — and awfully disappointing lows the next.
Their last couple of games have been a prime example.
Last Friday, the Jazz went on the road to Dallas and got dismantled in a demoralizing 103-81 defeat, their fourth straight setback. Then the next night, they were back home to play host to the Miami Heat, and Utah put together one of those proud season-highlight performances in a surprising if not downright stunning 94-89 victory over the two-time defending NBA champions.
Such is life in the NBA, especially for a team that's 17-33 overall and still trying to find its way and figure things out.
While Utah coach Tyrone Corbin was mighty pleased with that last win, he realizes that warm and fuzzy feelings are pretty darned fleeting in the NBA — especially on the eve of another trip out on the road, which has been anything but kind (6-19) to his team this season.
"We should feel good about the win," said Corbin, whose team faces the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night at the Staples Center. "It's a win against a great ballclub. I thought we executed on the offensive end very well, and defensively we did some really good things and made their guys work for everything they got and had some success against a great team.
"We have an idea where we are. We know we have a lot of work left to be done. You don't want to get too down when you don't play your best and understand that you have to work and work your way out of it, and you don't want to get too high when you have a big win like Miami. You know it's a great accomplishment for this young group, but it's one game.
"And while you enjoy the moment, you've gotta get back on the ground because L.A.'s waiting on us. And if you don't, with this group, if we don't come out focused with everybody on the same page, then there's a chance that we don't have the success we're looking for," he said.
Utah rookie guard Trey Burke, whose clutch jump shot gave the Jazz a four-point lead in the victory over Miami, said that win is definitely in his team's rear-view mirror now.
"I've definitely come down off of it just because we've got another one (Tuesday) and we've got another one the day after that," Burke said. "Obviously it was a big win for us. A lot of people obviously didn't expect us to win that game, but we played hard for 48 minutes, played as a team and ended up getting a win."
And Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward said the reason he and his teammates didn't whoop it up too much after last Saturday's win was because it reminded them of how good they can be — and of how often they unfortunately fall short of playing that well in this roller-coaster, up-and-down campaign.
"I think we know we can do it, and that's why I said there wasn't any excessive celebrating after the game because we've done it before," Hayward said. "We've been there before; we've beaten good teams before. We just have to do it on a nightly basis."
Tuesday, the Jazz face a Kobe Bryant-less Lakers team that has struggled through a subpar 18-33 season of its own. Tuesday's matchup tips off at 8:30 p.m. MST in the Staples Center where, in their last game against the Lakers, the Jazz were beaten 110-99 in early January.
"They've been though several things, but they're still gonna compete," Corbin said of the Lakers. "You look at the game Sunday night and they kept fighting and they had a chance to come back against Chicago. They didn't come back and win the game, but they fought through to the end.
"So it's a capable team and if they're hitting shots from the perimeter especially, they're difficult."
The Lakers have sorely missed Bryant, their superstar swingman who missed the first 19 games of the season recovering from a torn Achilles that required surgery, then played in just six games before going down with a knee injury that has sidelined him since mid-December.
But despite the proud L.A. franchise's uncharacteristic losing record, Corbin is still wary.
"(Chris) Kaman's back for them and they may get a couple of guys back for our game, so we'll just have to see," he said. "But we have to make sure that whoever they put on the floor that we're ready to compete against them."
Burke agreed that even though the Lakers might seem awfully short-handed, with Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and other key players missing portions of this season with injuries as well, the Jazz definitely cannot take anything for granted based on their road struggles this season.
"They have a young team; they're still trying to find their identity, still trying to find that one go-to guy without Kobe. It's not surprising," he said of the Lakers' struggles. "But at the same time, they are still an NBA team and they still compete every single night.
"So we've got to go in there (Tuesday) and compete. We can't allow them to get out, and we can't dig ourselves into a hole like we did when we went there a couple of weeks ago."
And veteran forward Richard Jefferson, who continues to provide much-needed leadership for this young Utah team, offered his own perspective of the Lakers' lousy season.
"No one feels sorry for 'em," he said. "There were a lot of years where they were coming into town, packing the arenas, and beating everybody by 30 and then they were leaving.
"No one cares. No one cares about our struggles. No one cares about their struggles. Their job is to go out there and compete, and our job is to go and there and do the same thing."
And get ready for another wild ride on that unpredictable coaster.
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