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Utah Jazz defense figures to focus on San Antonio Spurs' point guard Tony Parker

SALT LAKE CITY — Some Jazz fans will always remember this about Tony Parker — he's the point guard the San Antonio Spurs drafted four spots after the Jazz picked point guard Raul Lopez in the 2001 NBA Draft.

Parker has gone on to a highly successful 11-year NBA career, appearing in four all-star games, winning three NBA titles with the Spurs and once being named the Finals MVP.

Lopez? He suffered a serious knee injury before ever getting to Utah and played just two mediocre seasons for the Jazz before being traded in 2005. He has played in Europe ever since.

Parker has been a thorn in the side of the Jazz for the past decade and he's back in their lives again as the Jazz and Spurs meet in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series beginning Sunday in San Antonio.

The Jazz have long since put the 2001 draft behind them, as they should, considering 20 other teams in the league bypassed Parker that year also.

That was also the draft that Kwame Brown was taken No. 1 by the Washington Wizards and players such as Kedrick Brown, Steven Hunter, Kirk Haston, Joseph Forte and Jeryl Sasser were also taken well before Parker (and Lopez) in that draft.

And now the Jazz have two point guards from the same draft that were taken after Lopez — Jamaal Tinsley, taken with the 27th pick, and Earl Watson, chosen No. 39. But we digress.

Parker, who may be the best overall player taken in the '01 Draft, is averaging 18.3 points per game this year, which isn't a career high, but above his career average and best since he scored 22.0 per game in 2008-09.

However, Parker is doing a better job of finding his teammates this year, dishing out 7.7 assists per game, which is his career best and eighth in the NBA.

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said Parker is unique among NBA point guards for his speed and the way he gets to the basket for layups.

"Because of Tony Parker's speed going to the basket, I know we've had trouble keeping him out of the paint over the years," Corbin said. "He's a fast guy that's going to be in attack mode at all times in the full court. In the half court you have to stay between him and the basket as much as you can. It's not only his quickness, but the way he can finish in the lane. He can get from point A to the basket so quickly it makes it difficult to cover him in our rotations."

Jazz starting point guard Devin Harris has battled with Parker many times in the past, including the playoffs. He says with Tim Duncan getting older, the Spurs have revamped their offense in favor of Parker.

"The way they run their offense now is pretty much predicated on him and not so much Duncan any more," Harris said. "I've played against him in the playoffs before and kind of understand him. But he's playing at an extremely high level right now and he's well-rested, so it's going to be tough."

Harris said he will need to keep up the offensive pressure on his opponent.

"I know how to be a aggressive and how to play Tony," Harris said. "I'm looking to keep him out of transition and away from the free-throw line and make his shots tough. Any great offensive player, you've got to get him in foul trouble and not give him as much energy to play the offense."

As Harris said, Parker should be rested thanks to coach Gregg Popovich's strategy during the lockout-shortened season.

Parker sat out six games this year, including the last time the Jazz and Spurs met earlier this month as well as season-ending games Wednesday and Thursday at Phoenix and Golden State.

Parker is backed up by second-year player Gary Neal, who averaged 9.9 points per game. The third point guard is pretty good also. Former St. Mary's star Patty Mills was picked up late in the season and in Thursday's season-ending game at Golden State, Mills poured in 34 points.