SALT LAKE CITY — On multiple occasions recently, Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has credited Deron Williams for playing the best basketball of his career.
"One hundred percent I agree with that," teammate C.J. Miles said.
The NBA thinks pretty highly of Williams' play this season, too.
D-Will was named Western Conference player of the month by the league Friday after leading the Jazz to the second best November in franchise history.
"I think it's a great honor," Sloan said. "That's what happens when you win — awards usually go to players. ... He's done a great job."
An even better job, the NBA deemed, than fellow West nominees Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, New Orleans' Chris Paul, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, San Antonio's Manu Ginobili and Los Angeles Clippers' rookie Blake Griffin.
This is the first monthly merit in the All-Star's six-year career and just the 12th time a Jazz player has ever received it. Williams has been player of the week three times, including for the week of Nov. 8-14.
Williams averaged 21.9 points and 9.9 assists with 10 double-doubles while sparking the Jazz to a 13-3 November and a 14-5 start before December.
"Great player — probably a top-five player in the league," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "The key guy for them. Just causes all kinds of problems offensively, defensively. He's a very strong-willed player, and he gives their team confidence."
Williams joins Karl Malone (seven times), Carlos Boozer (twice, including for February 2010) and John Stockton (once) as Jazz players to win the award. (It should be noted the NBA split the award up into conference winners in 2001.)
The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Williams was a key cog in the Jazz's crazy string of comeback victories. He helped Utah rally out of eight double-digit deficits en route to victories in November, and he hit two game-winning shots.
"He's played terrific. He's done a little bit of everything," Sloan said. "I think he's been very good defensively, which a lot of people don't talk too much about. But he's a very good defender, and he does a lot of things in that area as well as (being) able to score and pass the ball."
Orlando center Dwight Howard, whose Magic lost to the Jazz after leading by 18 points last month, earned Eastern Conference player of the month honors.
RARE AIR(TIME): National TV games were uncommon for Jazz center Al Jefferson during his three-year stint in Minnesota. In fact, Friday's game on the four-letter network equaled the number of times he appeared on ESPN with the Timberwolves.
That one only happened because Kevin Garnett returned to the Twin Cities after being traded to Boston.
"And," Jefferson recalled with a grimace, "we lost."
Jefferson was in the spotlight earlier in his career when he played for the Celtics, and he admitted to wanting to be on that stage again while in Minnesota.
"I knew what it took to be on national TV," Big Al said. "And that's winning games."
Not to mention being on a team people know exists.
"Yes, it's something I've always wanted to be a part of because people didn't even know we had a team in Minnesota," Jefferson said. "They used to ask me, 'Who do you play for?' I'm, like, 'The Minnesota Timberwolves.' "
That answer apparently surprised some people, who responded with the question, "They've got a team in Minnesota?"
"That," Jefferson said, "was kind of embarrassing."
Friday's game, by the way, was Utah's fourth appearance on national TV.
MISC.:Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and former Dallas center Shawn Bradley were among spectators in the near-sellout crowd. ... Sloan on Utah's improved defensive effort, which tops the NBA in field-goal percentage and 3-point D: "Defense is just attitude." ... The Jazz were 2-0 on ESPN coming into Friday. Their next national TV tilt is a home ESPN game on Jan. 26 against San Antonio.
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