Utah Jazz: In role reversal, streaking Jazz meet slumping Lakers
NBA • Jazz can nail down first-ever season sweep of Lakers with Staples Center win.
Published: January 24, 2013 11:40PM
Updated: January 25, 2013 12:32AM
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One team is fighting for playoff position. The other has dropped far back in the playoff race.

One team has won six of its last seven games, including four straight. The other has lost 10 of its last 12 games, including four in a row.

One team has had three head coaches since 1981. The other has had three head coaches since November.

Meet the surging Utah Jazz. And introducing the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.

The Jazz and Lakers collide Friday night at Staples Center, with each on a distinctly different path midway through the season.

At 23-19, Utah is four games over .500 for the first time this year and seventh in the Western Conference.

At 17-25, the Lakers own the fourth-worst record in the West — ahead of New Orleans, Phoenix and Sacramento.

Utah leads the Lakers by six games.

The Jazz also have clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker against Los Angeles after two earlier wins. That means a victory in their final meeting this season would put the Lakers in an eight-game hole if they want to overtake Utah.

It’s been a stunning turn of events, actually, because of the preseason hype surrounding the star-powered Lakers.

Last summer, they signed future Hall of Famer Steve Nash and acquired All-Star center Dwight Howard.

With former MVP Kobe Bryant still around, many expected L.A. to breeze through the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals.

Instead, the Lakers are in serious danger of missing the playoffs, despite the star power and a payroll approaching $130 million.

Asked about what has transpired in Los Angeles, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin shakes his head.

“The talent that’s on that team, you’d think at some point they are going to get it figured out,” he said. “You just don’t want it to be against you.”

The Jazz have never swept a regular-season series against the Lakers. They are also looking for their fourth win in the last five games at Staples Center.

If they get it, the Lakers might not be able to catch Utah in the conference playoff race.

“You always think about [that], especially now during the second half of the season,” Corbin said. “ ... If you get your work done early, that’s one less [team] you have to worry about.”

Al Jefferson prefers to avoid any thought of the playoff race or the Jazz’s chance to add to the Lakers’ misery.

“I’m not looking at it like that,” he said. “We just need to win. We need to play the way we’ve been playing and try to get every game.

“… Lakers, Clippers, whoever. We just need to win. I don’t know what’s going on with them. It really ain’t my problem.”

Paul Millsap agrees.

“I think everybody is a little shocked by what’s going on down there,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with me. ...

“We’re not worried about the Lakers. We’re just worried about ourselves and how far up we can get” in the standings.

Going back to last year, the Jazz have beaten the Lakers four straight times.

Previously, the franchise’s longest regular-season winning streak against L.A. was three.

What would a fifth straight victory over the Lakers mean to Corbin?

“It would just show some growth,” he said. “But it’s not going to be easy. It’s on their home floor. They’ve struggled a little bit lately, so they are going to be ready to go. We have to match that intensity.”

luhm@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sluhm

Jazz at Lakers

O At Staples Center (Los Angeles)

Tipoff • Friday, 8:30 p.m. MT

TV • ROOT. Radio • 960 AM, 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM

Records • Jazz 23-19; Lakers 17-25

Season series • Jazz, 2-0

Last meeting • Jazz, 117-110 (Dec. 9)

About the Jazz • They have won six of their last seven games, including four straight. ... They are 18-6 when the opponent scores less than 100 points. ... In the last six games, G Randy Foye has made 21 of 33 3-pointers. He’s had at least one 3-pointer in 13 of the last 14 games. ... G Mo Williams won’t play (thumb).

About the Lakers • They have lost 10 of their last 12 games, including four in a row. ... They are 0-6 in January against Western Conference opponents. ... All-Star G Kobe Bryant averages 29.2 points per game. ... C Dwight Howard averages 16.7 points and 12.0 rebounds. He shoots 50.4 percent from the free-throw line.