LOS ANGELES — Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko showed flashes of brilliance in Utah's first-round series against Denver.
There was the accidental jumpman pose while finishing a fast break and making a layup in Game 3. There were the two clutch free throws he sank to put the Jazz up 11 late in Game 4.
The Jazz will need more of those moments — and the challenge of completing them will be drastically tougher — when they open the Western Conference semifinals against the reigning champion Lakers at Staples Center today.
Fesenko has his work cut out for him against the Lakers, who roll out 7-footers like they roll out red carpets in Los Angeles. There's the finesse and highly skilled game of Pau Gasol, and it's complemented nicely by the power game of Andrew Bynum — when he's healthy.
"It's going to be great challenge," Fesenko said. "It's going to be tough, there's no doubt. It's going to be a fight for every loose ball. It's going to be a really good series to watch."
The Jazz will likely be better off if Fesenko isn't one of the spectators.
With usual starting center Mehmet Okur out for the season, Fesenko will need to hold his own in the paint against Gasol and Bynum, and play well enough to earn coach Jerry Sloan's trust, which in turn would allow Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap to have a few breathers. Fesenko didn't do that in Game 6, as Kosta Koufos got key minutes in his place in the third and fourth quarters.
Statistically, Fesenko's performance in the first round was uneven. His best performances were in Games 3 and 4 at EnergySolutions Arena. He had his worst game of the series on Friday when he had no points, three fouls and four turnovers in less than 11 minutes of play.
Sloan — perhaps joking, and maybe not — said Fesenko might have been distracted by the balloon drop at EnergySolutions Arena prior to Game 6.
"I was looking for him and the game was getting ready to start," Sloan said. "Everybody has to have fun, but you've got to stay focused on how to play basketball. That's what we've said all along. He's got to continue to work at that."
Sloan knows the Jazz need the good Fes, not the bad Fes against the Lakers.
"Fes looked like he was getting ready to go to the all-star game (in Game 4)," Sloan said. "That's one of the things that guys got to learn (is playing consistently). This is a tough business."
Fesenko's ability to physically match up with Gasol and Bynum might not be his toughest challenge in the Western Conference semis — getting in the right frame of mind could be.
"First of all, I need to stop thinking too much on the court," Fesenko said. "I need to move a little bit. I need to relax a little bit. I was too uptight. That's my biggest challenge."
Millsap said he "absolutely" believes Fesenko will be up to the challenge of competing against the Lakers' mammoth front line.
"His size will be effective," Millsap said. "He'll do some things that will help us out a lot, so we look forward to that."
Fesenko said he'll do everything in his power to be effective against the defending champs.
"I need to find the keys to playing against them," he said. "I'm going to ask all the coaches, Jeff (Hornacek), Matt Harpring. Anybody that can help me with tips, I'm wide open."