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They're toast: Even Sloan sees Jazz prospects vs Lakers as 'pretty bleak'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For a 67-year-old coach who never has seen an obstacle that hard work couldn't overcome, Jerry Sloan sounded almost fatalistic about the Jazz's prospects in their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sloan called the situation "pretty bleak," described the Jazz as a "little dent in the road" as far as the Lakers' championship aspirations, and sang the praises of a 65-win team with perhaps the best player on the planet in Kobe Bryant.

"They're a terrific team," Sloan said. "They pass the ball, they do about everything you would ask a team to do. They've got guys that can make big shots, guys that just know how to play basketball, make the game look simple."

The Jazz took Wednesday off before beginning playoff preparations this morning. They are due back at Staples Center this weekend for Game 1 against a Lakers team that beat them 125-112 in Tuesday's regular-season finale.

More than that, the Jazz were left grasping for anything that could be considered encouragement. Having dropped seven of their final nine games, the Jazz have seen few signs that they can become the fourth No. 8 seed in NBA history to win a first-round series.

"It's going to be a tough task to beat this team, but if we stay together, try to steal one on the road, we know we're a good home team," Deron Williams said. "So we've just got to try to get one of these first two games."

They can point to the familiarity of having played the Lakers in last year's conference semifinals, a series they lost in six games. They can talk about the fresh start offered by the playoffs after an injury-ravaged season and April swoon.

They can hope that their physicality will bother the Lakers, even if coach Phil Jackson saw it as a positive for his team to contend with so early in the playoffs. They can use Golden State's 2007 first-round upset of Dallas as inspiration.

"Obviously, the Lakers are the best team in the West as of right now," Kyle Korver said. "But we weren't trying to avoid anyone. Obviously, we'd rather play them some other time down the road, but you've got to play them some time. You might as well play them first."

The Jazz's immediate concern is shoring up a defense that has given up 125, 114, 130, 118 and 125 points in recent games. They have to contend with the Lakers' two 7-footers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who combined for 42 points and 13 rebounds Tuesday.

"It's two skilled big men down there in the post and you surround them with all the players they surround them with," Williams said. "It's tough to stop this team. It's tough to get stops against them. You might get a couple in a row, but they come right back at you."

The Jazz also had no answer last year as the Lakers shot an average of 38.5 free throws a game in the conference semifinals. The Lakers went 182-for-231, making more free throws than the Jazz even attempted (138-for-172).

Not surprisingly, the Lakers averaged 110.3 points in the series -- eliminating the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena -- with Bryant going 80-for-96 at the foul line on the way to averaging 33.2 points.

The Jazz, meanwhile, will stress playing with passion and togetherness. They have gone 15-11 at full strength since Carlos Boozer's return on Feb. 23. Boozer (5-for-11) and Andrei Kirilenko (six turnovers) both struggled in Tuesday's loss.

Sloan said simply, "We've got to lay it all out there," while Bryant wasn't about to discount the Jazz.

"In terms of getting in their heads, I think that they have such a great coach that it doesn't matter what we did [Tuesday] night or what we did before," Bryant said. "He is going to have his guys ready to play."

Although they advanced out of the first round the last two years against Houston -- without home-court advantage -- the Jazz have been a No. 8 seed only once in their history, losing to Sacramento in four games in 2002.

"We just got beat, so I'm not going to sit here and be like, 'We've got them,'" Korver said. "It's not like we have that attitude. We know them well. We've played against them a lot now. I think the series last year probably will help us out for this year. We'll see what happens."

rsiler@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">rsiler@sltrib.com

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