There have been sightings from California to Utah — coming from multiple witnesses, too — that a powerful predator is on the loose out West.

The fearsome force is preying on purple-and-gold-clad Americans and Europeans, gets energized by ensnaring orange leather orbs and even occasionally bellows out ear-piercing roars after rampages.

Eyewitness Deron Williams described the 6-foot-9, 266-pound being as "a beast" after seeing it cause serious damage at EnergySolutions Arena on Thursday.

Phil Jackson, whose Los Angeles group was menaced and manhandled by the creature, compared it to "a monster."

Beware the Abominable Alaskan.

Eek! Run! Hide the women, children and players wearing Lakers gear! And one!

Also known as Carlos Boozer — and sometimes referred to as a two-time All-Star and Olympian and perhaps soon to be called a former Jazzman — it appears he's returned to being a dangerous threat again.

The Beehive State is sure hoping Boozer the Beast, the Jazz's first-round leading scorer and rebounder who's coming off of a monstrous 23-point, 22-rebound outing, victimizes the visitors again in tonight's pivotal contest.

"That was one of the best games I've seen him play in a long time," Jazz forward Matt Harpring said. "That was vintage Boozer. We need that for Game 4."

"He just played like a beast," Williams added. "He's played well this whole series. It looks like he's back to his normal form."

That, of course, can be scary depending on if he considers you a friend or a foe.

"He's a monster in there," Jackson, the Lakers' coach, admitted. "He's a big, strong guy. He's pushing our guys around and getting good position for rebounds."

Boozer is also, as noticed by teammates, playing as well as he has all year. The resurging power forward's game and the postseason both seemed to have arrived at the same time.

To wit, Boozer has strung together three consecutive games of 20 or more points against the Lakers in the first round after not doing that at all during the 2008-09 regular season. His 27 points in Game 1 were more than he'd notched in one night all season long. It helps, he says, to be 100 percent after missing 44 games due to knee surgery and rehab. Going through the painful process of filing for divorce is also behind him.

"I definitely know it was a tough season — off the court, on the court, it was rough for him," Williams said. "Probably not being able to play made it tougher for him."

Two months after returning from knee surgery, Boozer seems to have left that behind him — kinda like he left Pau Gasol in his tracks while spinning for a key, left-handed monster jam late in the 88-86 Game 3 win.

"(Thursday) it was just a different Booz out there," Williams said. "The way he went after the ball, his intensity out there, it was great. That's what we need now. ... He was active, he was vocal, you could see that passion."

The production's there, too. Boozer is averaging 23.3 points and 13.7 rebounds despite being outsized against 7-foot Gasol and the lengthy Lakers. That, after having the worst shooting year of his career — 49.0 percent, the only time he's failed to hit half his shots — with averages of just 16.2 ppg and 10.4 rpg.

When asked at Friday's practice if he's making up for lost time, Boozer smiled and replied: "Just playing. I'm so excited to be here, feeling healthy, feeling good, excited to be playing basketball and having a chance to win — and I'm having a ball doing it."

Part of his rekindled fun is playing with energy on both ends of the court.

Coach Jerry Sloan was pleased with Boozer's execution on offense and his aggressiveness on defense — along with his tenacity in crashing the glass Thursday. It was arguably, even according to him, his best performance since his huge 35-point, 14-board Game 7 against Yao Ming and Houston two postseasons ago.

"I think he was active all the way around, not just on the boards," Sloan said. "I thought he did a better job defensively. … I think he just played."

Fact is, though, tonight's game could also be the last one Boozer plays in Utah wearing a Jazz uniform. He can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, which he's already said he plans on doing.

But that, he claims, is far from his mind. He's got bigger fish to fry, taller opponents to torment. He hopes to delay his beast of an offseason business decision as long as possible.

"I'm not thinking about that at all," Boozer said about this potentially being the end of his Jazz career. "I'm just trying to win these games and try to get a chance to get past these Lakers. I'll worry about that later."

For now, the Jazz just hope the Dreaded Devil from Duke continues making the Lakers worry about his monstrous play.

E-mail: jody@desnews.com