Deron Williams vs. Derek Fisher
It's the up-and-comer with a point to prove vs. the savvy 13-year veteran who has three NBA title rings with the Lakers — and they're ex-backcourt mates for a season in Utah. Williams averaged 10.7 assists per game, second in the NBA only to New Orleans' Chris Paul (11.0), but also 3.4 turnovers, tied for second-most in the league. Fisher played all 82 games and averaged 9.9 points, above his career average.
Ronnie Brewer vs. Kobe Bryant
Brewer is vastly improved from a season ago, especially defensively, but the athletic swingman still will have his hands full with the NBA's reigning MVP. And as Kobe goes, so go the Lakers. "Kobe Bryant definitely is the main force," said Jazz reserve Andrei Kirilenko, who frequently will be guarding Bryant when Brewer isn't. Brewer bumped his scoring average from 12.0 to 13.7 this season, but Bryant averaged 26.8 over 82 games.
C.J. Miles vs. Trevor Ariza
Miles started throughout the season, but he'll be playing with a recently dislocated shooting-hand finger that sidelined him for five of Utah's last six games. Even if healthy, his minutes might be reduced in the playoffs. Ariza, a quick and solid defender, missed last postseason's series vs. Utah (fractured foot). But the Los Angeles high school/UCLA product drafted by New York in 2004 (second round) started 20 of the 82 games he played this season.
Carlos Boozer vs. Pau Gasol
Boozer struggled to score in last season's series with the Lakers, partly for personal reasons, partly due to how he was defended. His point production is down this season, too, from 21.1 to 16.2. But the left knee that caused him to miss more than half the season has been arthroscopically repaired, and he still averages 10-plus rebounds. Spaniard Gasol isn't especially physical, but is a two-time All-Star (like Boozer) averaging 18.6 points and 9.6 boards.
Mehmet Okur vs. Andrew Bynum
Okur missed the Jazz's final game of the regular season with a strained right hamstring, and Utah can only hope he's good to go for the start of the series, because without the big Turk they have no dependable outside shooting threat. Bynum had a 42-point, 15-board game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 21. But the big-bodied youngster tore the MCL in his right knee less than two weeks later, and didn't return until April 9.
Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Brevin Knight, Matt Harpring and Jarron Collins vs. Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Josh Powell
Kirilenko should play major minutes. Millsap too. The Jazz can only hope Korver finds his shooting touch. Knight's a veteran backup point, but has limited playoff experience. And Harpring's grit will warrant him time. Odom, along with Gasol and Bynum, gives the Lakers perhaps the league's best big-man threesome. Walton is hard-nosed, with experience. And Brown — part of a February trade with Charlotte for Vladimir Radmanovic — is a nice in-season pickup who recently wrestled away from Farmar the backup point position.
Phil Jackson's already in; Jerry Sloan just recently was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. But the two took divergent paths there. Jackson rode Michael Jordan and friends from Chicago to six NBA titles — including two Finals victories over Sloan, John Stockton and Karl Malone — and won three championships behind Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in L.A. Sloan, who earlier this season celebrated his 20th anniversary of coach of the Jazz, continues to chase his first.