Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — He logged only eight minutes in the Jazz's loss Monday to Oklahoma City.
But they were eight well-played in the estimation of Jerry Sloan, especially when Earl Watson kept going even though an especially nasty injury left his lower lip looking like his participation was measured in rounds rather than minutes.
"Earl's a battler," Sloan said. "He's gonna play you as hard as he can.
"He got hit in the mouth and his teeth went through his lip, and he had to have some stitches for that," the Jazz coach added. "But he's always in there battling and fighting to try to help our team."
Sloan said Watson, signed as a free agent last offseason, is looking more "comfortable" at the point.
That established, Sloan also suggested Tuesday that he still hasn't picked a primary backup to All-Star Deron Williams.
Watson has played eight minutes or more in each of the Jazz's last three games. But he didn't play (coach's decision) in two of three games prior.
His competition for Williams' few-but-critical unused minutes, combo guard Ronnie Price, played 14 Monday. But he logged six or fewer in each of the Jazz's previous three games, and 20 — at both the point and shooting guard — in two of Utah's three games before that.
"It's tough for them," Sloan said, referencing the uncertainty over who'll play when. "You know, I'd like to be settled in.
"It would be nice to know, exactly, for them, I'm sure," he added. "But we're still not totally settled."
Watson, for his part, likes the look presented when Price plays next to him.
It's a pairing that seems to work best against smaller matchups.
"We complement each other well," he said. "We're just constant energy, and I feed off (Price's) energy — and hopefully he feeds off mine.
"It gives me a lot of confidence when each of us gets after guys, because I know he's always gonna be there, and vice versa."
What Sloan appreciates most is how Watson pushes the pace, especially how he did when Williams was too slow for his liking early on Monday.
"He pushed the ball and was really making us stay in that rhythm to try to play," the Jazz coach said.
"We got in a situation where we walked the ball up the floor, and that lets (opponents) do what they want to do defensively.
"Then we're caught in a no-man's land as far as being able to shoot the ball," added Sloan, whose clubs are known for precise halfcourt sets — but often mischaracterized as unwilling to run. "There's not a rhythm."
It's what he does best, the UCLA product suggested.
"That's more or less my style of play," said Watson, who has had stints — most as a reserve, but more recently as a frequent starter in Seattle (now Oklahoma City) and Indiana — with four other NBA franchises. "Like I said at the beginning of the year, I'm trying to implement my style of play with this team — but not be out of character of this team.
"So I'm trying to find my middle ground, and be balanced," he said. "When needed, I just play hard and lose myself to the game. Also, when needed, I fit in with the pattern of the past and try to execute in the halfcourt and create opportunities."
The more he plays in Utah, the more Watson really is at ease.
"I would say it took me two or three weeks just to get comfortable with the altitude," he said. "That was the biggest part. Then, just learning the offense and getting more comfortable with my teammates.
"I'm the type of guy where I have to pick up the details in order for me to be successful in anything I do in life — and basketball, to me, is a parallel to life. It takes time for me. I've always been patient, and I study a lot. So it's starting to come together for me."
Even if his bloody lip was ripped apart.
Watson isn't sure how that happened, but when it did, he looked at teammate Paul Millsap and asked if he needed stitches.
"He was like, 'No,' " Watson said. "But the face didn't look too confident when he said it."
Instead of getting sewn up right away, Watson waited until Sloan subbed Williams back in anyway.
Then he headed to the medical room, more proud than concerned.
"If I don't get stitches," Watson said, "I don't think I'm playing hard."
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