p>Jazz (23-19) at Los Angeles Lakers (17-25)Tipoff: 8:30 p.m. MT TV: ROOT SportsRadio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM
This may be one of those, "Don't say it or you'll jinx it things," but the Jazz are in position to do something on Friday they've never done before. They've already won a franchise-best four games in a row over the Lakers, and with another win at Staples Center, would sweept the regular season series for the first time ever. Granted, the teams used to play four times a season instead of the three they play in the modern era. The Jazz beat the Lakers 95-86 on Nov. 7 in Salt Lake City and again 117-110 on Dec. 9 in what was their most impressive victory to that point of the year.
Gordon Hayward and Paul George will always be linked. They play the same position and were drafted back-to-back in the 2010 draft. The Jazz picked Hayward ninth, one spot ahead of George, leaving the former Fresno State star for Hayward's hometown Indiana Pacers.
Both third-year veterans have found success. But while Hayward has struggled at times with consistency and is growing into his role off the bench, George is the man for the Pacers. He averages 17.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. And on Thursday, he became the first member of Hayward's draft class to be selected to an All-Star game.
"Just extremely happy for him," Hayward said. "It's cool to see guys from your class become All Stars."
Hayward said George's selection as an Eastern Conference reserve fueled his own desire to become an All Star.
"It motivates you," Hayward said. "You want to be an All Star in this league and when you see guys that are already doing it, you've just got to put in that much more work to try to get there."
Hayward averages 13.5 points per game this season. He has come off the bench for the last 32 games after starting the first 10.
"I think it puts a little bit of a timeframe on it," Hayward said, "and it shows that somebody else has done it so why can't it be you? It just means there's a lot more work to be done."
Al Jefferson didn't particularly want to be asked once more about the All Star Game, but when he finally relented, it was not his own omission that he wanted to talk about. The biggest snub in his mind? Not him, not even a teammate. Try Golden State guard Stephen Curry.
"Top five in the West? Averaging 20?" Jefferson said. "I think he should have got in. Maybe next time."
Jefferson was considered a long-shot candidate for the Western Conference team, but was in a long line of big men. Conference coaches ultimately selected Tim Duncan, Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge and David Lee (Curry's Warriors teammate) to the All-Star frontcourt.
"I've been in the situation many times before," Jefferson said. "Minnesota when I was averaging 20 and 10, 20 and 12, I didn't make it. I used to get mad, but then I realized the ones they want in there are going to be in there, so I don't worry about it."
The Lakers have lost four straight games and, while not necessarily out of the playoff picture, showing few signs of ever becoming the team that analysts anticipated when management added front-line players Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to a roster already studded with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Currently 12th in the Western Conference, 15 ½ games out of first place and four games out of eighth, the Lakers are, as our Steve Luhm wrote today, going in a very unfamiliar direction
It's so bad in Laker Land that local reporters actually investigated whether the team was considering parting ways with Mike D'Antoni, its third coach this season and a man who has been in the position for about two months. According to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register, he's safe.
"On paper they've got a talented team and they've got what it takes to win," Jefferson said. "But whatever's going on with them is going on with them. We got our own problems."
And what are those problems?
Well, you know, my dog's sick," he said. "My mail got lost the other day. I got all types of problems."
*** Among the Lakers problems has been Howard, who has not been the player the Lakers hoped for when they acquired him from the Orlando Magic. He's been injured, ineffectual and in the middle of closed-door, players-only meetings. [Note: While, oft-maligned, it's worth pointing out that Howard still averages 16.7 points and 12 rebounds a game.] But Jefferson, who has gone back and forth with Howard over the years, doesn't think it's quite as bad as it's made out to be.
"The first game me and him was talking," Jefferson said. "I think that you could tell that his back wasn't quite 100 percent. The second game he looked more, as far as moving and stuff, like that getting back to himself. Dwight is a smart player, if he's not 100 percent he knows not to mess his injury up any worse.