SALT LAKE CITY - They don't believe.
Oh, they want to. They're trying hard to. You can almost hear the Jazz players straining to talk themselves into believing they can beat the Lakers.
"A lot of people don't think we can play with this team," Jazz guard Deron Williams said. "We feel like we can.
"We feel like we haven't played a good game against them yet. Hopefully we're due for one."
This isn't the time of year to hang ambitions on hope. Not that two games makes a series, but the Jazz just don't look like a team that deep down in its little heart of hearts, believes it's the better team.
All while the Lakers' confidence swells by the game.
There's a swagger to them now, a deep belief borne of an unbeaten postseason run and an overall 10-game winning streak.
It's not that the Jazz have played terribly. They have played pretty well actually, just not well enough. Which is part of their problem.
The Jazz don't look confident, don't look like a team that expects to win.
It's in the players' body language. It's how they carry themselves. They've pounded the boards, mostly played their game, kept their heads when they fell behind by double digits, methodically tried to wear the Lakers down.
And they're down, 2-0, in more trouble than Hillary Clinton and under tremendous pressure to win tonight's Game 3. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit.
"We believe we can beat this team," Utah forward Paul Millsap said. "It's just a matter of doing it."
The Jazz are certainly capable. They are one of the top young teams in the NBA. Yet if their long-term future is bright, the short term is looking darker by the dribble.
The Jazz are hanging comeback plans on two things: 1) They fell behind 2-0 to Houston last year and came back to win the series in seven games; and 2) Tonight the tipoff is in Utah.
"We're going back home and we know our crowd is going to be into it," Millsap said. "We just got to get into our game."
At EnergySolutions Arena, the Jazz enjoyed the NBA's best regular-season home record at 37-4. It's a raucous crowd, a great homecourt, even if it did act shamefully in booing Derek Fisher when he first returned this season.
Yet the Jazz need to be mindful of one frightening element to their return-to-comfy-
If this group of Lakers has demonstrated one characteristic during these early playoffs, it's that they relish challenges. They welcome each test as an opportunity to discover how good they can become.
In the first round the Lakers responded with their best overall postseason performance in Game 3 against the Nuggets in Denver. They jumped all over the opportunity to close the Nuggets out in four games.
Know this, the Lakers are looking forward to tonight's game. They're not going to be intimidated.
"Game 3 is no different," Kobe Bryant said. "No matter how loud the crowd is or what's going on, we just have to focus on what we have to do. It's just noise."
Neither does Utah coach Jerry Sloan believe the Jazz should find too much assurance in knowing they overcame a similar 2-0 hole last year in the playoffs.
"This is this year," Sloan said. "I just hope we can regroup and get ourselves ready to play. That's what it's all about. Come back and see if we can put together a good effort. Not get in a hole to start with, and see what we got."
The Lakers led by as many as 19 points in the series opener, and the Jazz pulled back to within four the fourth quarter. The Lakers led by 15 early in Game 2, and Utah was down by just five in the final minutes. And each time the Lakers seemed to simply turn it on, raise their game and swat the Jazz aside.
The Lakers truly believe they are the better team. They aim for greater things, and are not modest in announcing it.
When Kobe received his MVP trophy prior to Game 2, he spoke openly about playing into June, which would mean for an NBA title. He said this while the Jazz stood watching the brief ceremony.
"We believe in ourselves," Kobe said after the game. "We have a high basketball IQ. That's why I believe that we can play in June. We play as a unit on both ends of the floor. And that's what you need."
The Jazz, they want to believe. Know they have reasons to. Right now, they just don't.
Things can turn quickly in a series, and one impressive victory tonight and the Jazz could find themselves back on track, their confidence rising.
There are reasons for the Jazz to think tonight's game will not unfold as the first two did in Los Angeles. The Lakers have shot an amazing 89 free throws in the first two games, and despite their attacking mentality, it's unlikely they'll get that many calls in Salt Lake City.
"The difference in the ballgame is free throws," Sloan said. "We can't foul 'em. We put 'em on the free-throw line, for what (89) free throws? And that's way too many if you're going to have a chance to play with them."
Utah, meanwhile, has taken a staggering 196 field-goal attempts in the first two games but is shooting only 41.3 percent. It shot 49.7 percent in the regular season.
Williams, who hit three late 3-pointers Wednesday, also figures to be more aggressive early tonight, particularly back in Utah.
All things that sound good, that make perfect sense. It's just very different than truly believing it.