DENVER — With Mehmet Okur's Achilles tendon ruptured, two unlikely suspects are left to help pick up the pieces.
On Saturday night, the two were helping take Okur — the Jazz's starting center — off the court of the Pepsi Center here in Denver and to the Jazz locker room with one of basketball's cruelest injuries.
Monday night, sporadically used backup center Kyrylo Fesenko and seldom-used No. 3 power forward Kosta Koufos will be expected to contribute on the floor for Utah in Game 2 of the Jazz's first-round NBA playoff series with the Nuggets.
"We're gonna have to have guys step up and play well for us to be successful," point guard Deron Williams said.
"They're on this team for a reason, they're in the NBA for a reason," Williams added with reference to Koufos, who is in second NBA season, and Fesenko, who is in his third. "You know, they can play basketball. It's just a matter of them having the confidence to go out here and do it."
Former Jazz forward Matt Harpring — an ex-teammate of both Koufos and Fesenko, but working now as an analyst for Jazz TV — sees it as a huge chance for each to make a name.
"The NBA is an opportunistic league," Harpring said.
"If that was me, you feel bad for Memo," he added, "but, holy cow, I don't know if I'd be able to sleep ... I'd be so ready."
Before Saturday's Game 1, neither had playoff experience.
Fesenko — who'll be a free agent in the offseason — has appeared in just 79 NBA regular-season games over three years, and Koufos 84 over two.
"They're gonna have to play," Williams said.
"I've got to buy some minutes somewhere," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added. "I can't play those guys (starting power forward Carlos Boozer and backup power forward Paul Millsap) 48 minutes."
Sloan suggested he doesn't want to have to start Millsap alongside Boozer.
"Then I don't have anybody (big) that has experience coming off the bench, so," he said, "I'll probably go with a younger guy, one of those two guys."
Twenty-three-year-old Fesenko admits he's "nervous," but the big Ukrainian vows to be ready if he gets the starting call.
He opened five times this season as an injury replacement, but 21-year-old Koufos didn't make any starts at all.
"Starting is good," Fesenko said.
"That's what everybody's been talking about all year long — you have to be ready, you have to stay in shape, you have to be ready for stuff like that," he added. "And, well, the next couple games are gonna show where me and Kosta are at. ... It's not just me. Don't forget Kosta."
Sloan will be thinking constantly about both, mostly likely, for the rest of the series.
For better than for worse, he can only hope.
"We're who we are," the Jazz coach said.
"We're not gonna be able to do too much, other than maybe play some of the younger guys who haven't gotten a chance to play.
"And that's what we tell them at the beginning of the year: You never know; when somebody might get hurt, you might get put in a position where you have to play or will be able to play."
If he does start, a despondent-sounding Fesenko will do so with something of a heavy heart.
"I don't know what to say," he said. "The whole situation with Memo — it's kind of upsetting me."
The usually jovial Fesenko, though, did manage to find a rainbow in the clouds.16 comments on this story
"I always know that me and Kosta — both of us," he said, "we can play one position and get 12 fouls."
A look at the regular season for young Jazz bigs Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos, who could be called upon often now that starting center Meh?met Okur is out for the rest of the playoffs:
FESENKO: 49 games, 5 starts, 408 minutes, 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, season-high 11 points.
KOUFOS: 36 games, 0 starts, 172 minutes, 1.5 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, season-high six points.