The Jazz's Self-Esteem Recovery Tour continued Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena with a 97-91 win over San Antonio. That makes it five straight wins and 11 of 13. Now that they're back in first place in the Northwest Division, the only thing they need to worry about from here on is finding the jacuzzi, right?

Well, maybe not.

But wasn't this a validation?

Not exactly that, either.

"We'll validate in April in the playoffs," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer. "Right now we just got in (playoff position). Validation will come when the season's over."

At least for the moment, the Jazz seem to be on track. Perhaps equally important is that they beat the Spurs, a team that has treated them like so much fertilizer for years. Utah has only defeated them five times since the 2001-2002 season. At one point, the Texans won 18 straight, and they are still on a 16-game roll in San Antonio.

"You think about the Spurs and you think about championships and conference finals," said Jazz forward Kyle Korver. "That's where they always are."

That said, the Spurs simply haven't been themselves lately. They've won just 11 of their last 23 games. After a 17-3 start, they're 11-12 since.

Still, the Jazz would be wise to keep this win to themselves. It can be their little secret. Speaking of secrets, in a way the Spurs must love all this Spurs-are-in-trouble stuff. They do just fine flying under the radar. Go ahead, talk all you want about the high-octane Phoenix Suns. Rave to your heart's content about the Nuggets' A.I. invasion. Rhapsodize about seven-foot Dallas scoring machine Dirk Nowitzki. Marvel that the surprising New Orleans Hornets are a leader in the West.

The Spurs will see 'em in the playoffs.

Which, of course, is where they operate like a team of surgeons. Before you know it, they've taken out your spleen.

No team has felt the gouge of the Spurs more than the Jazz. Long ago, in a land far, far away, the Jazz dominated the series. The Spurs just weren't a problem. But then came Tim Duncan and the Jazz just couldn't adjust.

Though the Jazz have fared better lately — winning two of four last year and one of two this — they still lost badly to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals last year, four games to one. Soon to follow was the Spurs' third NBA title in five years.

That left the Jazz saying San Antonio was what they hoped to become, which is strange considering at one time it was the other way around.

In several ways, the teams remain similar. Both have old-school, long-term coaches. Both have an All-Star power forward, an upper-echelon point guard. Both like to think it all starts with defense. And both can be as boring as tap water when they execute their patient offenses. Nothing fancy, but highly effective.

All of which made Monday's pairing fairly intriguing. Had the Jazz closed the gap on the defending champions? Was the psychological damage done last spring permanent?

Sure, the Spurs haven't been particularly sharp lately. For about a month they had only one game in which they had their three best players — Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — ready to go at the same time. Injuries had taken their toll.

None of which will likely matter once the postseason begins. Who needs sexy when you're relentless? Who needs pizzazz when you have tenacity? In any case, the Jazz made off with a win. How big was it?

"It gives us a little bit of confidence," said a cautiously optimistic Korver.

But, he added, not your get-down-and-party, beat-on-your-chest confidence.

"The Spurs," he pointed out, "are still the last team you want to see in the first round of the playoffs."


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