As strange as it sounds, Deron Williams might approach Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen with the Boston Celtics in town for tonight's game and thank them for the 105-86 beating they gave the Jazz on Nov. 11 at TD Garden.
"It was a turning point in the season," Williams said, "when we saw how they played, and we kind of wanted to emulate that."
With seven players scoring in double figures, yet nobody finishing with more than Garnett's 18 points, the Celtics were everything the Jazz weren't. Williams said the lessons learned were as simple as playing together and "not caring about who gets the glory."
"That's where we are now as a group of guys," Carlos Boozer added. "We just want to win. You see everybody on the bench, smiling, happy because we're up. All we want to do is win the ballgames."
The Jazz can take stock of how far they've come since that early-season loss with tonight's rematch against Boston. It will be one of the last tests remaining in the final 12 games before the playoffs, along with an April 2 game at the Lakers.
As dominant as they've been recently at EnergySolutions Arena, riding a six-game home winning streak and winning the last five of those games by an average of 22 points, the Jazz know how different things will be against the Celtics.
"Boston's one of those teams that's a terrific defensive team," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said, "and they predicate most of the stuff that they do starting with their defense.
"They've been in world championship situations and they get up and get after you. If they foul, they've got somebody else to throw at you. They've got three guys that are great players and then [Rajon] Rondo, he's been tough for us to deal with because he rebounds and does a little bit of everything."
The Jazz lost to Boston only eight games into their season, with Boozer saying it "seems like two years ago." Williams played with a bad back that night and Sloan benched Boozer and Mehmet Okur not even four minutes into the second half.
"They're a great team," Williams said then. "They have a group of guys who know their roles 1 through 10. They come in, they do the job, they get stops. They don't coast. They hold everybody accountable. That's what it takes to be a championship team."
Williams went out to dinner with a group of teammates after the game and said they were struck by the Celtics laughing on the bench during the fourth quarter of the blowout, with seemingly little interest in how their numbers would look in the final box score.
Following the Boston loss, the Jazz came together in the final two games of their Eastern Conference trip, beating Philadelphia and narrowly losing to Cleveland even as Williams returned home with one of his daughters undergoing medical testing.
"I think we started to believe that when we stepped on the floor we could win and that's a tremendous advantage," Sloan said.
The Jazz still were sitting at 19-17 in early January before taking off. Andrei Kirilenko's move to the starting lineup was a catalyst, and a miracle Jan. 14 victory over Cleveland on Sundiata Gaines' buzzer-beating three-pointer provided inspiration.
Now the Jazz have won 26 of their last 34 games, climbing to fourth in the Western Conference. Most remarkable is that the Jazz's record (45-25) now is almost identical to Boston's (45-24), as one-sided as that November loss was.
The Celtics have won four straight, including back-to-back victories at Houston and Dallas to open their three-game trip, yet have struggled with inconsistency and complacency, even losing to the 7-62 Nets at home Feb. 27.
"They're an older team and they've been banged up," Williams said. "We know how that goes. Not as far as being old, but being banged up and having guys in and out of your lineup. Once they gel and when it comes playoff time, it doesn't matter."
The Jazz throttled New Orleans on Saturday without Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf) or Mehmet Okur (stomach ailment) and it remains to be seen if they will be at full strength tonight. Either way, the Jazz are looking forward to measuring themselves against Boston.
"It'll be a good game," Williams said. "I know our fans will definitely be excited about that game and it'll probably feel like a playoff-type atmosphere."
At EnergySolutions Arena
Time » 7 p.m.
TV/Radio » FSN Utah, 1320 AM, 98.7 FM
Records » Jazz 45-25, Boston 45-24
Last meeting » Jazz lost 105-86 (Nov. 11)
Line » Jazz by 31/2
About the Jazz » Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer should be well-rested for tonight's game. Williams didn't play in the fourth quarter of either game this weekend and Boozer played just 16 minutes Saturday due to foul trouble . ... Rajon Rondo with his quickness has been a tough matchup for Williams in the past. Rondo had 14 points and 11 assists in the Celtics' victory in November over the Jazz.
About the Celtics » The Celtics went into Sunday with just a half-game lead over Atlanta for fourth place in the Eastern Conference . ... They came back from seven points down in the fourth quarter to beat Dallas 102-93 Saturday, getting a combined 89 points from their starting five. ... The Celtics have won three more road games (24) than home games (21) this season . ... Nate Robinson is averaging 7.1 points and Michael Finley 6.1 points since joining the Celtics.