David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant takes a deep breath as he steps to the free throw line for a shot against the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter of Game 6 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, in Denver on Thursday, May 10, 2012. The Lakers said Bryant had a stomach ailment.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Jazz fans have one of those love-to-hate relationships with Kobe Bryant.

Who knows if he was trying to use reverse psychology on a fan base he obviously knows isn't fond of him, but the Laker superstar was nothing but complimentary of Jazz players and fans before Wednesday's game.

"We've had some epic duels in this building," Bryant said.

Now in his 17th season, Bryant called it "crazy" when told he's played almost an entire season's worth of games against Utah throughout his career. Since 1996, the Lakers and Jazz have played 79 times, including the playoffs.

"That's a lot of basketball," he said. "Obviously, I'm pretty familiar with this arena, the fans, the city. I've been here many, many times."

A lot of mixed memories, too.

"Obviously, when I first came in the league, they were getting the better of us pretty much every single time, every year," Bryant said. "Things kind of turned around for us and it started becoming a little more pleasant to see them."

Bryant again paid a big compliment to a Jazz fan favorite, Gordon Hayward, the shooting guard he once compared to a more athletic version of Jeff Hornacek.

"I like Hayward a lot. I'm a big fan of his," Bryant said. "Mo (Williams), Marvin (Williams) and those guys, I think they do a fine job."

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New Laker center Dwight Howard also spoke highly of Jazz fans. This was the Lakers' only visit of the 2012-13 season, but the team will usually make two trips, not counting playoffs, so he'll get to know them even better if he remains with L.A.

"I know these fans," he said, smiling. "Utah, they probably have one of the best fan bases I've seen. No matter if they make the playoffs or not, anytime I've come in this building it's always jumping. They're alive here. Sometimes they get a little crazy, but I love it."

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