For Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams, this third time isn't particularly charming.
For the third straight postseason, the Utah Jazz have run into the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol ended Utah's last two playoff runs, and the franchise with 15 NBA titles again is blocking the Jazz's pursuit of their first.
Although Utah finished within four games of the top-seeded Lakers in the overall Western Conference standings, Boozer knows his scrappy but injury-tagged team isn't given much of a shot to hold off Bryant and his playoff-tested crew in the second-round series, which starts with Game 1 today at Staples Center.
"We're underdogs again," Boozer said Saturday before flying to Los Angeles. "We're undermanned again. I don't know I've ever been anything other than the underdog. I know it's not the easiest position to be in, but it's the position that we're in."
Bryant didn't exactly spend the Lakers' 39-hour gap between playoff games studying up on fifth-seeded Utah after Los Angeles finally eliminated Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in six games. Boozer and Williams are more experienced than the Thunder's dynamic duo and more familiar with the Lakers, although they're on equally short rest after knocking off Denver on Friday night.
"No scouting report necessary for either team," Bryant said. "We know their offense inside-out. They know our offense inside-out, as well as the defense. We've played each other so many time s, including preseason. We're just extremely, extremely familiar with each other."
These franchises have more in common than their geographically bizarre nicknames — which would actually make a whole lot more sense if they swapped.
The Lakers have met the Jazz in five previous postseasons dating to 1988. The winner reached the NBA finals each time, from Utah's Stockton-and-Malone powerhouses in the late 1990s to Bryant's last two Los Angeles clubs.
The Lakers are virtually unchanged from last year, with only Ron Artest added to the mix of last season's champions who routed Utah in five games in last spring's first round. The Jazz came bac k impressively from that disappointment, jumping into the conference title picture this spring behind a breakout season from Williams, a first-time All-Star.
"Any time you're playing the Lakers, it's a tough task," Williams said. "But we do feel a lot more confident than we have in the past. We feel like we're a tougher team this year, mentally and physically. We finally answered a lot of the questions people have about this team."
Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko likely is out for at least the first two games while he recovers from the strained left calf that sidelined him late in the regular season. Center Mehmet Okur alre ady is out for the postseason, while Williams also has a bruised elbow that could limit him in Game 1.