Jazz can’t solve the Lakers


Remember that ancient era when the Utah Jazz could not only win a playoff game on the road against the Lakers, but were expected to do so?

Yes, there was life before Staples Center, Lakers World Domination and the best-planned photo shoots gone awry.

The last time the Jazz defeated the Lakers in Southern California in a playoff game was May 24, 1998 behind the efforts of the ageless Karl Malone and John Stockton. It happened to be the fourth game of a sweep in the Western Conference finals, coming at the Forum in Inglewood.

It comes as a surprise to non-Californians that the aging Forum is still standing

And the Jazz? Barely.

When a team happens to be staring up a 16-game losing streak at Staples Center (factoring in regular-season and playoff games) self-belief would tend to come into question.

Perhaps even in the form of a question: Have the Lakers managed to get into the heads of the Jazz? They are two games from eliminating Utah for the third time in the playoffs in three years.

It might seem a valid theory. But not when the coach sitting on the bench — or in this case, scowling on the sideline — happens to be Utah’s Jerry Sloan.

Jazz rookie guard Wesley Matthews dismissed the notion that the Lakers were the kind of team capable of penetrating a psyche.

“Psychobabble,” he said. “This game is 90% mental. How you deal with adversity. How you deal with success. Calls, no calls. Shots, missed shots. Can you bounce back as a team, more importantly than as an individual?”

Sloan, speaking generally, said it can occur.

“Oh I think some guys it happens to,” he said. “I think it happens to some of the guys who maybe don’t have a lot of experience and been in those situations.”

Playing styles and variety of weapons, coupled with Utah’s injury woes, have added up to the Lakers’ 2-0 lead in this series. Game 3 is on Saturday in Salt Lake City. That Utah came within five points of the Lakers in Game 1 and refused to go away quietly in Game 2 is typical of a Sloan-coached team.

“They have some problems that they know they can’t solve,” TNT’s Kenny Smith said in an interview. “I still think [the Jazz] have the belief they can win. I would imagine if you get to the second round and as tough as Jerry Sloan, is in terms of coaching, that they still have the belief.

“This team is mentally tough. They’re just injured. Playoff basketball is only about matchups. If you catch the right team with the right matchups, you can go a long way. If you catch the wrong team, a lot of times, you’re going to get burned.”

Or scalded.

The heat is rising after Utah’s replacement center, Kyrylo Fesenko, has scored all of four points in two games. And the Jazz has been scrambling to compete against the Lakers, minus two starters, center Mehmet Okur and forward Andrei Kirilenko, although Kirilenko is expected to play Saturday.

The correct assessment might be that the Lakers aren’t into the heads of the Jazz but are over their heads.

Supporting evidence 101: Seven-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, plus 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom have led the Lakers’ dominance on the boards, outrebounding the Jazz, 101-78, in this series.

Smith disagreed with his larger-than-life TNT colleague Charles Barkley, who suggested on the air, after Game 2, that the Jazz didn’t think it could beat the Lakers.

“The Lakers weren’t spectacular,” Barkley said. “But just looking at [the Jazz] body language, I don’t think they think they can beat the Lakers.”

Said Smith: “A few years there are teams that are just dominant over everyone. Those years are few and far. The Lakers are the closest thing this year. They can play a lot of different styles and be successful.”

TNT’s Reggie Miller said earlier in the series that the Lakers were almost playing the Jazz like a yo-yo.

“They’re capable of blowing anybody out if they’re clicking on all cylinders and Kobe [Bryant] is hitting,” Jazz reserve Kyle Korver said. “That’s why they’re the world champions, right? So you have that in the back of your mind but you can’t give them too much credit.

“You can’t stand there in awe by any means. I don’t think we do that at all.”