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Lakers at Jazz - Game Four


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Utah Jazz: Rare Sunday home game will put Jazzmen to work

Rare seventh-day home game is OK for Jazzmen

By Ross Siler

The Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated: 05/11/2008 01:03:53 AM MDT

Andrei Kirilenko has spent seven seasons with the Jazz, long enough to call Karl Malone, John Stockton, Greg Ostertag and Bryon Russell former teammates, but today's game will be a first-of-its-kind experience for him in Utah.

Along with the rest of his teammates, Kirilenko will be part of the Jazz's first Sunday home game since Jan. 21, 2001, when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at 1:30 p.m. in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals at EnergySolutions Arena.

Will it be unusual for the team? "Definitely," Kirilenko said, "and it's so early game. We will get used to early game, but Sunday in Utah? I want to see how many fans will go to the game. I'm sure it's going to be sellout, but . . ."

No player on the Jazz roster ever has played a Sunday game in Salt Lake City. It's been so long, in fact, that the Jazz's last such game - a 109-98 victory over Phoenix - was televised by NBC. The Jazz last played a Sunday home playoff game in May 2000 against Portland.

"It's different for us, but it's going to be fun," Deron Williams said.

"It's a playoff game. It doesn't matter what time it is. It could be 2 o'clock in the morning and I wouldn't care. I'd be there."

Having beaten the Lakers 104-99 on Friday, the Jazz can take the series back to Los Angeles tied 2-2 with a victory. The Jazz were able in Game 3 to build a 13-point lead in the second quarter and ride Carlos Boozer's 27-point, 20-rebound night to the win.

"It was the first game of this series we played a full 48 minutes," said Boozer, who outscored Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom 27-25 by himself.

Williams said the Jazz gained confidence they could beat the Lakers. The challenge now is to avoid a similar fate as last year, when the Jazz rolled to a 109-83 victory in Game 3 of the conference finals at home against San Antonio but fell 91-79 in Game 4.

That game - played on Memorial Day, as opposed to Mother's Day - saw the Spurs shoot 25 free throws in the fourth quarter while Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and Derek Fisher (now with the Lakers) were ejected. Jazz fans littered the court at the final horn in disgust.

With Williams talking about shortening this to a three-game series, Sloan only can hope his team has grown up in the past year. "That's the learning process they've got to go through to try to continue to get better," he said.

The Lakers, meanwhile, will look to bounce back after their first loss of the playoffs. Lakers coach Phil Jackson cited his team's 18 turnovers against 14 assists as the root of the Game 3 loss as well as Gasol's turnovers in the pivotal second quarter.

Then again, the Lakers might have been due for a letdown after sweeping Denver and opening the playoffs 6-0. They had won 10 straight dating to the end of the regular season and 14 of 15 overall.

"We talked about it a little bit," Kobe Bryant said. "When you win nine, 10 games in a row, something like that, you tend to get a little soft on the defensive end because you expect to win these games and you try to take shortcuts here and there.

"We're just going to harden up and come out [today] with a better effort on the defensive end of the floor."

Even though they will be at home, the Jazz could be forgiven for feeling out of place. The team does not schedule regular-season Sunday home games out of respect for the area's LDS Church leanings, but does not have the same control in the playoffs.

The game will be televised on ABC, with Jazz owner Larry Miller already saying he will not attend, opting instead to take a long drive. The game did sell out, but there are questions about how many tickets will go to Lakers fans. The Jazz have played five Sunday road games this season, including one against the Lakers last week. Most Sundays, the Jazz would be off after playing a set of back-to-back games Friday and Saturday or go through a morning practice at their facility.

After the year he spent with the Jazz, Fisher said he was surprised when he learned the schedule for this series. The more Fisher thought about things Saturday, the more he thought the Jazz would benefit from the schedule.

"After having won the game [Friday] night, a quick turnaround is probably even better for them," Fisher said, "to continue to ride their confidence and feel good about the fact that they've gotten a win and try to come right back out [this] afternoon and do a lot of the same things."

Ten years ago, Jackson was part of two Sunday games in Utah when the Jazz and Chicago Bulls twice played in the NBA Finals. The Bulls lost 79-73 in Game 3 of the 1997 Finals, but came back the next year to win the championship in Game 6 on Michael Jordan's shot over Russell.

"The unfortunate part is Larry doesn't get to come to the games on Sunday," Jackson said, tongue in cheek, "so we don't get to see him across the court."

rsiler@sltrib.com

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