LOS ANGELES — After beating the San Antonio Spurs on Monday, and for the third time in three tries this season, the Jazz's confidence is sky high.
They've won five of their last six games and eight of their last 10, and — a rash of injuries notwithstanding — they're feeling awfully good about themselves because of it.
"We've got a team with a bunch of fearless guys right now playing good basketball," power forward Carlos Boozer said prior to practice Tuesday.
"Ever since that (mid-November) East Coast trip," he added, "we came back home with a renewed sense of pride and a renewed sense of a team, and we've just been taking off and gradually getting better."
For the longest time, San Antonio was as good of a place — and as good of a team — to ground the Jazz as any.
Lately, though, it's been Los Angeles — site of the Jazz's game tonight — and, more specifically, Kobe Bryant and the defending NBA-champion Lakers that have brought them down.
"I hope we don't play these guys being intimidated by them," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said after a practice Tuesday with just eight players, largely because Andrei Kirilenko, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Price and Kyrylo Fesenko all were out injured or sick. "They're a great team. But, you know, I'd rather play these games than (ones against) teams that you go out there and you're expected to win.
"That's where you make yourself better," Sloan added. "If you can compete against them, get out and do that, then you should be able to do that all the time. Learn how to be able to compete against the good teams and not be intimidated, by anybody."
Intimidating, though, is just what the league-leading Lakers — now 16-3 with nine straight victories — have been to the Jazz in recent seasons.
Utah has lost seven of its last nine regular-season games against L.A.
The Jazz are just 3-16 at the Staples Center vs. the Lakers and have lost six straight there in the regular season against the Lakers, with their last win in the building against the Lakers coming on New Year's Day 2006.
That was a game in which the Lakers were without Bryant, who was suspended at the time, and Jazz starting point guard Deron Williams, then a rookie, played just 15 minutes off the bench behind Keith McLeod.
Moreover, the Lakers have eliminated Utah from the playoffs the past two postseasons — most recently in the opening round, and before that in the second round.
Counting playoff games, the Jazz have dropped 12 straight to the Lakers in L.A.
"They're the pinnacle our league," Boozer said.
"So, for us," he added, "we get a chance to play what everybody considers the best team in basketball and see how we do."
Sloan questioned if the Jazz were "nasty" enough after losing the first game of their postseason series with the Lakers last April, but these days he feels much better about his 12-8 club.
"I hope they feel like they can win any time they step on the floor," he said. "I was thinking about that (Tuesday) morning. That's one of the most important things you can have … is to know you've got a chance to win if you bust your rear end."
The Jazz will get not one but two chances this week — the Lakers also visit Utah on Saturday, after 2009 NBA Finals runner-up Orlando visits Thursday — to prove Sloan's gut right.
Boozer, for one, believes they have a legit shot at maximizing the opportunity — even though he says the Lakers have "the best player in the game" in Bryant and the Jazz are "the underdog."
"We look forward to it," he said. "We're up for the challenge. … To play the Lakers at L.A. is as good an assess as we had in Boston (last month). We failed there miserably (losing 105-86), but hopefully we can do better this time around playing a championship-caliber team.
"I'll tell you, we're confident with how we're playing right now. You know, we feel comfortable in the way we're playing — on both sides of the ball."
Confidence, he suggested, is critical.
"In this league, if you don't have confidence as a group of guys other teams will eat you alive — especially the good teams," Boozer said. "If they smell fear, it's like a Rottweiler or a pit bull. If they smell fear, they're gonna attack.
"So for us, if we can go in there with confidence like we've playing with the last 10 games, with confidence every time we play, then we'll have a better chance to win."
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