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Sekou Smith

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Deron Williams and the Jazz face a monumental task of trying to come back from a 2-0 deficit.
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Odds stacked against Jazz as series shifts to Utah


Posted May 8 2010 11:01AM

SALT LAKE CITY -- Just based on the history and numbers alone, things don't look good for the Utah Jazz.

The Lakers' history and numbers, that is.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson is a staggering 45-0 when winning the first game of a playoff series, a wicked 52-1 when holding any sort of lead in a series and the Lakers have defeated the Jazz 16 straight times in Los Angeles, where the Jazz would have to win a game to find their way out of the 2-0 hole they find themselves in Saturday in their Western Conference semifinal against Jackson's Lakers.

If it sounds daunting, it should because it is. If it seems like a nearly impossible order to fill, it should because it is.

Not even a trip here, to the sanctity of Energy Solutions Arena for Saturday night's Game 3 and Monday's Game 4, where the hometown Jazz always enjoy one of the NBA's most vibrant and arguably its best home-court advantages, has convinced folks to expect a monumental shift in this series' momentum.

That might have something to do with the scattering of Lakers fans seen crawling around the downtown streets here Friday evening, each small group seemingly more vocal than the next.

"There's a lot of Laker fans here," Jazz swingman C.J. Miles told reporters here Thursday, the day before the mini-invasion, "and they let you know it if you see them around town."

It's easy to show up in enemy territory and root for your team when they've played as well as the Lakers have here in recent years.

The Lakers have won in the postseason here in each of the last two years, in Game 4 of a first round series last year and in Game 6 of the conference semifinals the year before.

They snapped the Jazz's nine-game win streak Feb. 10 this season, without injured stars Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, and have won seven other games here in the regular season since the start of the decade.

Yet Jackson, who is notorious for his verbal jousts with fans and players from opposing cities and teams (remember his "cowtown" comments about Sacramento and his officiating jabs at Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant in the first round?), is not counting on any history or numbers this time around.

"It's so difficult," he told reporters in Los Angeles Thursday, "as a coach you just don't know how to grab the attention of the team, to set them on edge so that they're ready to come out and compete in a vastly hostile place, that you have to win a ballgame there under duress."

Still, he had to acknowledge the Laker fans that are sure to turn up in the arena Saturday night. "There are still Laker fans [in Utah]," he joked. "We have our contingent of fans. You can still hear them cheering ... gently."

The home team is well aware of that Laker contingent and expects to see and hear them during these two games here as well.

"There's a lot of people from L.A. that probably move here, probably people that growing up in the Western half of the United States are going to be Laker fans," Jazz All-Star Deron Williams said. "It doesn't surprise me. They're like the Steelers, they travel well."

Even with a rowdy home crowd, the Jazz can't count on the Lakers buckling under that pressure the way they could against the Nuggets in the first round.

"They've won here before," Williams said of the Lakers. "They won here this year without Kobe. I don't think that bothers them. They're a championship team, they've won on the road no matter where they've went. So no, I don't think they're going to be intimidated."

Most teams would be against a Jazz team that has won 13 of 14 home games dating back to a Feb. 22 loss to Atlanta. And the Jazz will have desperation on their side, not to mention the return of defensive ace Andrei Kirilenko, who will make his playoff debut tonight after struggling with a calf strain for weeks.

But Kirilenko dashed any hopes of an inspirational, save-the-day type performance coming from a player that has missed 23 of his shorthanded team's last 25 games.

"I think it's a little bit wrong perception," Kirilenko said. "You can't really rely on one guy who's been out two months to save the game ... we just need to play those games how we were playing against Denver. Just aggressive basketball, solid, and we should be fine. You don't have to have somebody like me come and really like save you."

With the history and numbers stacked against them in the series, having someone save them tonight might be exactly what the Jazz need.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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