August Miller, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Another day, another round of compliments for the Utah Jazz player snubbed by the All-Star ballot committee.
And, no, we're not talking about Francisco Elson.
Though he wasn't deemed worthy of being listed among the top 24 Western Conference forwards by a media panel, Paul Millsap received praise from current and former teammates.
"That's weird," a puzzled Deron Williams said. "You would definitely think with what he did even last year he would be on the All-Star ballot.
"He's probably been overlooked his whole career, going back to high school," the All-Star guard added, "so he's no stranger to it. It's probably a lot of his motivation."
Al Jefferson — who made the ballot with Williams, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur — seemed stunned.
"Say what? Wow!" Jefferson said. "Who made that decision? That's not right...He should be on there for sure."
The Jazz's starting power forward, who brought All-Staresque averages of 21.5 points and 9.5 rebounds into Friday's game, took the news in stride.
"I'm not tripping over it," Millsap said. "It's not a big deal to me....My main thing is to win."
Confirming Williams' hunch, Millsap said he wants outsiders to continue doubting in him.
"This is still one of the things that I use to get over humps, to fight over adversity," Millsap said. "I use what other people say to my advantage....It kind of gives you a little extra (motivation), a little extra oomph about yourself, makes you want to go out there and show yourself."
Millsap, who only had 12 points and seven rebounds in Friday's 94-82 loss, also got a long-distance compliment from someone he'll reunite with tonight in Portland.
"Paul can play," ex-Jazz guard Wesley Matthews told The Oregonian on Friday. "He's very talented, he's a very good player. Just given the opportunity, he's capable of doing stuff like that. We just hope to shut him down (Friday)."
Millsap might find inspiration from something else Matthews said in regards to not being surprised that the forward hit three 3-pointers against Miami. Utah's former undrafted rookie witnessed Millsap's longball skills last season in practice.
"He used to compete against us," Matthews said. "He would never win, but he'd try."
PHIL-IN COACH: Jerry Sloan missed Friday's setback to San Antonio and will not be at tonight's contest in Portland because of a family funeral. Longtime assistant Phil Johnson is pulling double-duty in his absence.
Williams said not much changes whether Sloan or Johnson is the bench boss.
"They have the same philosophies, the same principles," Williams said of Sloan and Johnson, who've worked side-by-side in Utah for 23 years. "They've been together so long, it's pretty much like you don't miss anything. Phil was a head coach anyway, so we know that."
Sloan didn't give his assistant any pointers or game-plan advice before leaving.
"He wished me good luck, that's about it," Johnson said.
Johnson, who is now 9-8 as Sloan's substitute, was also left with the unenviable task of speaking with the media. But he showed he has a dry sense of humor, not unlike the guy he's filling in for until Monday.
Asked who would restrain him from going after the referees to help him avoid getting technical fouls — one of his visible duties with Sloan — Johnson quickly replied: "Money."
Those technicals do, after all, cost $2,000 a pop this season.
FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH?: Skeptics might've counted out the supposedly old Spurs, but 34-year-old Tim Duncan & Co. have started with a better record (10-1) than in any of their four championship years.
So much for that over-the-hill assumption.
"They're getting old," Williams said. "But are they ever going to play like they're getting old? That's the question."
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