The Lakers will be in the Delta Center on Saturday night. Los Angeles is generally considered the most talented team in the NBA. The Lakers had four players in the All-Star Game - a full one-third of the Western Conference squad. Shaquille O'Neal is a dominating presence inside. Young Kobe Bryant has been christened by NBC and others as the "Air Apparent" to Michael Jordan. The Lakers have beaten the Jazz in both games this season, but Utah is holding on to a slim two-game lead in the conference standings.
It's a big game, no question about it.Then the Jazz will head to Seattle for the final meeting of the season against the SuperSonics, their main competition for the best record in the conference.
But, the Jazz insist, the games against the Lakers and the Sonics are on the back burner. Tonight's battle against the 18-52 Dallas Mavericks in Reunion Arena (6:30 p.m. tipoff) is a big deal, too, or so Jerry Sloan and his crew insist.
"The game against Dallas is just as important as the Laker game," said Sloan. "All of our games at this point are important. The Laker game, of course, may have some more priority to the people who come to watch it. But as far as we're concerned, the Dallas game is just as big."
The Mavericks are the type of opponent that could easily be overlooked, but the Jazz coaches have done their best to make sure that doesn't happen. Utah players are saying the right things too.
"We know Dallas beat the Bulls not that long ago and they are capable of beating anybody," said Shandon Anderson. "We can't be looking ahead to playing the Lakers or we'll be in trouble. A win against the Mavericks counts in the standings just like a win against the Lakers."
Sloan couldn't have said it better himself.
The Mavericks, believe it or not, are on a bit of a roll. They've won four of their last five games and five of seven. They downed Chicago in overtime on March 12 and also own two wins this season over Seattle and a win at Indiana. The Jazz have beaten them in all three games thus far this year, but by an average of less than seven points each - and once by only a bucket.
The game really doesn't mean much to the Mavs, while it's of major importance to the Jazz. That could give Dallas an advantage, Sloan insists.
"Guys play a little freer or easier when they know they don't have to win," said Sloan. "Our guys know the importance of each game - at least I hope they do."
Antoine Carr, who has sat out three straight games with a sore right hamstring, went through Thursday's practice session and made the trip with the team. It will be a game-time decision as to whether he will play tonight.
Carr is no longer the only 36-year-old on the club. John Stockton, the second-oldest player on the team, is now the same age as the Big Dawg following his 36th birthday on Thursday.
Two members of the Jazz family have had reason to mourn this week. Adam Keefe missed practice on Thursday as he was out of town following a death in his family. Keefe was scheduled to catch up with his teammates today and should play tonight. And Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson's mother passed away on Thursday morning in southern Idaho.