ORLANDO, Fla. — Al Jefferson's night gig as a cheerleader was short-lived.
Though matched up against one of the NBA's strongest players and fiercest defenders, the Utah Jazz center bounced back from his early ending and miserable Miami performance remarkably well.
Kind of a theme with this team, isn't it?
Like the Jazz, who put up their third stirring come-from-behind win in a row in a 104-94 win at Orlando, Jefferson had his own personal rally Wednesday night.
Utah's starting center scored 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and had a blocked shot despite pounding it out with the muscular, 6-foot-11 Dwight Howard, who was limited to 14 points and nine rebounds in a mostly quiet 33 minutes.
It was a stark difference from his dismal play Tuesday, when Jefferson only scored two points and was benched for the fourth quarter and overtime of the Jazz's thriller in Miami.
"Al was Al tonight," said Jazz power forward Paul Millsap, who complemented Jefferson's game with 23 points. "He did a great job of establishing the low post down there. He did a great job of getting Dwight Howard in foul trouble, making him work down there. And on the defensive end he did a great job on him, too."
Jefferson stayed on the court for 39 minutes in the 18-point Amway Center comeback, after only playing 28 minutes (and missing 7 of 8 shots) the night before in Miami.
"When you have a bad game, you've just got to bounce back," Jefferson said. "In this league, you know you have another game the next night. You don't have time to feel sorry for yourself and that's what I did — I just came and did what I know I can do."
That included starting his scoring night with a slam that seemed to have some extra oomph on it in the first quarter.
And it ended with Jefferson being on the court in the pivotal moments of the fourth quarter.
The Jazz trailed by two, 82-80, when he subbed back in — a relief for him, no doubt — with just under six minutes to go. But he soon made his presence felt, notching a three-point play after being fouled on a reverse layup to put Utah up 88-85 and give the Jazz the lead for good.
Jefferson added three more buckets, including a couple of short turnarounds, and finished with nine points in the fourth quarter — a period in which Utah outscored Orlando 39-20.
"That's what he's supposed to do. You don't make a big deal out of it," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Jefferson playing both more and better.
"I was happy for him," Sloan added, "because he came back and made a couple of big baskets inside. He seemed to be a lot quicker."5 comments on this story
Especially, Sloan added, after wearing out a bit in the first half — surprising perhaps, considering how little wear-and-tear Jefferson got the previous night.
It was also surprising to many — but not Jefferson — that he was so solid against Howard, a player he said he's battling against since his 10th grade days in Mississippi.
"He knows my moves better than I know them," Jefferson said. "He always does a real good job, but I think getting him into foul trouble helps me and I took advantage of it.
"To do that," Jefferson said, "against the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is real good."