The start of a new calendar year might have been all the Utah Jazz needed to overcome their early struggles.
Utah (6-3) did not get off to a good start to its season by shooting 32.2 percent - including 1 of 13 from 3-point range - during a 96-71 road loss to the Lakers on Dec. 27. The Jazz followed that performance by dropping two of their next three games to finish the 2011 calendar year 18-35.
Since the calendar turned to January, Utah has won all five games it has played. The Jazz posted their highest point total of the season while shooting a sizzling 59.2 percent in a 113-105 home win over Cleveland on Tuesday. Al Jefferson had a season-high 30 points with 12 rebounds as Utah moved into position to start 6-0 at home for the first time since 2008-09.
Jefferson, though, is not about to get caught up in a second straight strong start for the Jazz, who opened last season 15-5 only to wind up missing the playoffs.
“We were here last year and let it go,” Jefferson said. “That’s why I’m not as excited. We play every game like we’re last in the West and that’s what we are going to continue to do until all is said and done. Everybody’s got to keep that same attitude. We got to stay hungry.”
That’s especially true against the Lakers (7-4), who are looking for a fourth straight win overall but are also trying to avoid starting 0-4 on the road for the first time since 1995-96 - the season before Bryant entered the league. Utah lost 96-85 at home to Los Angeles on April 1, but has won nine of its last 14 against the Lakers at EngerySolutions Arena.
Extending that successful stretch could be tough as the Jazz try to contain Bryant, who scored a season-high 48 points and shot 18 of 31 in the Lakers’ 99-83 win over Phoenix on Tuesday.
“I just felt like I was in a good rhythm,” said Bryant, averaging 29.5 points despite playing with an injured wrist.
Bryant, who has scored at least 40 six times versus Utah during his career, is averaging 36.0 points on 51.5 percent shooting in his last five games. Bryant’s effort Tuesday and his 39-point performance in a 97-90 win over Golden State on Friday are the two highest scoring games by any player on the young NBA season.
He’s averaged 29.8 points in his last four regular season and playoff games at Utah.
“I’m ready for the next one,” Bryant told the Lakers’ official website. “(Wednesday) is going to be a big challenge, especially coming off a back to back…
“I’m looking forward to it already.”
Los Angeles is averaging 96.0 points on 48.0 percent shooting while going 7-1 at Staples Center, but has shot just 42.7 percent while scoring 92.3 per contest in its three road defeats.
“The jury is still out on how good we can be, but we’re going to continue to try to do the work,” said Bryant, who had 26 points, eight rebounds, and five assists against the Jazz last month.
Jefferson pulled down 10 rebounds in that contest for the Jazz, but scored only four points. The veteran forward has averaged 22.3 points in six games since missing Utah’s 102-99 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 30 due to a right ankle injury.