SALT LAKE CITY — Confidence is a critical part of success in sports.
With it, a situation is never hopeless because a confident athlete always believes he has a chance to win.
Without it, though, he's pretty much dead in the water — because if an athlete doesn't truly believe deep down in his heart that he can win, then there is a pretty good chance he won't.
And right now, you could certainly forgive the Utah Jazz if their confidence has been shaken. Not only are they down 0-2 in their first-round playoff series against San Antonio, but the Spurs spanked the Jazz by 31 points, 114-83, in Game 2 on Wednesday — the second-worst postseason defeat in Jazz history.
But now they're back for Game 3 in the series Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz certainly feel more comfortable and — dare we say it? — confident.
And the Jazz insist that they still feel like they can compete against this top-seeded Texas team that embarrassed them by a humiliating margin in their last outing.
"Their confidence level may be shaken a little bit," Utah head coach Tyrone Corbin admitted regarding his players, "but I think once the bell rings tomorrow, we'll be ready to compete. You have to understand it's just one loss, and you've got to rebound from it.
"We can't be afraid of anybody. This team has demonstrated all year long that we can compete against anybody, we just haven't played our best game thus far.
"Your back's up against the wall," Corbin said, looking at Saturday night's Game 3 as his team's most important game of the season. "You've got a minimum of two games left and as many as five games left to play on. Who's going to continue to fight and who's not? That's what you want to see in these situations. It's easy to fold your tent and go home and say 'Ah, it's too much to do.' But fighters fight, competitors compete, and guys who want to quit will quit."
He's hoping — and seems pretty sure — there are no quitters on his roster.
"This team has shown a lot of character and poise all year long," he said. "… The way we played in San Antonio, that's not our best basketball, and we have a lot left in us.
"We're not conceding anything. We want to go out and compete, and we've got two games here on our home floor. … We're playing for our lives."
Jazz center Al Jefferson, who has struggled on both ends of the floor in the first two games of this series, knows full well that he and his teammates must muster their forces and use the energy and emotion from what will surely be a fired-up EnergySolutions Arena crowd to help push them to a much-improved performance.
"It's still good, it's still good, man," Jefferson said of his own confidence level, as well as that of his teammates. "We're down 2-0 but we're at home now. We've been playing well at home all season, so this Game 3 is really very important — once again, the biggest game of my career, and I've had a lot of those this year for sure, by far.
"This game's really the most important if we're going to have a chance in this series. It's going to be good (to play at home), and that's why my confidence is still up. I still think we have a chance. San Antonio did what they were supposed to do; they won their first two home games, and that's what they were supposed to do. And now we've got to try and win our next two.
"I think everybody's excited to be back at home and feels the same way I do," Big Al said.
Utah starting point guard Devin Harris is also hopeful that Utah's raucous home-court environment will give the Jazz a much-needed shot in the arm.
"I think we're fine, we're fine," he said. "We've been in this situation before; it's not the first time we've been blown out on the road, it happens to everybody.
"Our focus is to play better at home; we have to protect our home court, and that's where our focus is now."
HOME COOKING: The Jazz have struggled with their shooting in the first two games of this first-round series. They hit 42 percent of their shots in Game 1, then sputtered through a woeful 34-percent shooting night in the Game 2 blowout.
Asked why most players shoot better whey they're at home, Harris mused "because they practice there more?"
So, does that mean the Jazz will shoot a lot better in Games 3 and 4 at ESA?
"Let's hope so," Harris said. "Let's hope so."
LOOKING BACK: The last time a Jazz team lost in such lopsided fashion in a playoff game, it was in the 1998 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls.
Utah suffered an absolutely dreadful 42-point defeat, 96-54, in Game 3 of the league championship series that year at the United Center, giving the Bulls a 2-1 advantage. Utah then lost a hard-fought Game 4 at Chicago and, facing elimination in Game 5 in hostile territory, the Jazz somehow rose to the occasion and prevailed.
Now all the Jazz need is someone to step up and score 39 points like Karl Malone did in Game 5 of that series.
Of course, Utah's win sent the series back to Salt Lake City for a fateful, frustrating Game 6, when Michael Jordan stole the ball from Malone, faked (or pushed) Bryon Russell out of his way and hit what proved to be the game-winning shot that gave Chicago the victory and its sixth NBA title in eight years.