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?
"Sometimes you’re going to have your ups and downs, but you’ve got to stay together. You’ve got to trust into what we doing and continue to do," Jefferson said. "And when we was going through that little time, we knew what it was. We knew we wasn’t being aggressive on the defensive end, so we just picked that up and got back do to doing what we do best."
In light of the Lakers' recent players-only meeting being a public topic of conversation, Jefferson said he consulted with injured Mo Williams about having a second heart-to-heart team chat when the Jazz were in their downward spiral last month.
"We had a player only meeting back in Toronto, the night before Toronto, when we were going through our first little slump and we bounced back from that," Big Al recalled of that Nov. 11 dinner after the Jazz started 3-4.
"This last time, we didn’t because we knew what we had to do. (Mo is) still one of the leaders, he’s always the one you want to talk to about advice. I talked to him about having another player-only meeting, but things started working itself out. Sometimes you’ve just got to let it work itself out."
"These guys are great about talking to each other all the time," Corbin said, "so I think they understand this and the importance of what we’re doing. They want to win games."
Corbin said the Jazz's better play originated with the team's captains and spread throughout the squad.
"It started with Al and Paul, the leaders. Everybody else has followed suit," Corbin said. "You look at Jamaal (Tinsley's) and Earl (Watson's) increased minutes, (to) be point guards to lead the team. It’s been a group effort on all parts to help us have a chance to continue to win."
The Jazz just hope the Lakers don't catch on to their little team-first secret while they're in Tinsel Town.
I think everybody’s a little shocked about what's going on over there, but it has nothing to do with me," Millsap said.
"I don’t know really what their problem is. I don’t worry about other teams. For us, our whole attitude is changed. We’re more committed about winning. It’s not about one guy, two guys. We're all part of this, trying to win."
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