PORTLAND, Ore. After his third game back from a sprained ankle that kept him out for seven games, Andrei Kirilenko admits he is still struggling.
"I'm having a tough time right now getting back after three weeks missing, and things haven't been going well for me," he said. "I feel out of rhythm, out of game rhythm, out of shape. But I'm trying to get back."
First step toward just that, though, may have come with just less than three minutes remaining in Utah's 98-93 win at Portland on Sunday.
Tied at 85, Kirilenko canned a 3-pointer and an ensuing free throw. For the one-time All-Star, it was a big shot Kirilenko sensed came with serious consequences had his aim been awry."I couldn't miss," he said. "They'd shoot me dead."
BIG HALF: The Jazz scored 55 first-half points Sunday their highest-scoring half of the season.
This from a team that just five nights earlier scored all of 60, total, against Indiana, and 62 in an earlier loss to New York.
How did they do it?
"The first half," captain Matt Harpring said, "we were moving the ball, passing the ball."
The Jazz got away from that in the third, which is why after being up by as many as 14 in the second quarter they had to rally from three down in the fourth to win."All of a sudden, third quarter we come out and do almost the complete opposite of what we did in the first half and that's why they got back in the game," said Harpring, who scored 14 of his 20 points during an opening half in which Gordan Giricek also scored 13 of his 15. "But then I thought we went back to playing better. Hopefully we learn from this and say, 'Hey, we win by playing this way; we lose by playing this way.' "
MILES OUT: The Trail Blazers played Sunday without usual starting forward Darius Miles, out with sore cartilage in his right knee.
Initial fears reportedly suggest Miles, an 18.2 points-per-game scorer, could be out 2-to-3 months. The Blazers, though, released no timetable for his return.
Rookie Martell Webster started in Miles' place.Also absent for Portland: veteran center Theo Ratliff, battling a foot injury.
JAZZ ABSENTEES: As expected, Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (strained hamstring), point Keith McLeod (avulsion fracture, lower back) and rookie center Robert Whaley (stomach virus) were inactive Sunday.McLeod traveled with the team; Boozer and Whaley did not.
GOOD GAME: Talking about Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and old-school basketball recently, Jazz center Greg Ostertag had this assertion:
"The way they did things and the way we do things are totally different," Ostertag said of Sloan, who played from the mid-1960s through the mid-'70s, and his generation."I don't think you can compare (today's) athletes to then," he added. "I think the athletes now are much more physical, much stronger, than when he played. Not to say that we're better. I just think if you were to take the top 10 guys from back when he played and play them against them top 10 guys from nowadays, I don't think (the older ones would win)."
ROOKIE RACE: For whatever it's worth in the first full week of December, ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan gives early Rookie of the Year consideration to New Orleans/Oklahoma City point Chris Paul, followed by New York's Channing Frye and the Jazz's Deron Williams.
In Sunday's Charlotte Observer, however, writer Rick Bonnell doesn't even have Williams on his All-Rookie team at this point. He goes with Paul, Toronto's Charlie Villanueva, Frye, Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut and Euroleague veteran Sarunas Jasikevicius of Indiana.