PHILADELPHIA — With his team struggling as much as it has in seasons, Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan mixed things up with his starting lineup Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rookie Gordon Hayward replaced Andrei Kirilenko in the starting small forward spot, marking the first time this season that Sloan altered his first five for any reason other than injuries or illnesses.
"I think it might be a little bit better situation for us," Sloan said before tipoff.
Early exit polls didn't reveal much of a shift in output.
"We still lost by 10," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said after Utah's 96-85 loss. "So there's no way to tell, I guess."
Sloan listed a couple of reasons for the change, which came after three straight losses on their East Coast trip.
For one thing, Sloan wants to give Hayward more playing opportunities. And with Kirilenko often filling in for Paul Millsap at the power forward spot, the coach believes subbing in AK-47 will bolster the bench production.
"I just thought Gordon needed a chance to play some," Sloan said. "It's hard to get him in the game where we can get him consistent minutes.
"And," he added, "I think hopefully that will help us more trying to come off the bench with Andrei."
Kirilenko has started all 41 games he's played in this season, but he's been no stranger to a reserve role the past decade in Utah. He was surprised, however, when Sloan made the announcement at the team's morning prep meeting.
The Jazz coach had repeated multiple times recently that he didn't believe a rotation change was in order right now. He just wanted his team to play with more energy and execute better.
"We playing not good lately," Kirilenko said. "We have to expect some changes."
Asked if it's hard not to take the change personal, Kirilenko smiled and responded: "I get used to any decision coach makes, because over the years I've been starting off the bench, I've been in starting lineup. So it's not really bother me. I'm looking from the positive side anyway."
He then added with a chuckle, "I'm easy target."
As for Hayward, this was the 20-year-old's seventh start in his rookie season. Coincidentally, that is how many games he's missed due to coach's decision. But Sloan has been impressed with the amount of work Hayward has put in while improving over the season.
In Saturday's test run, Kirilenko had a bench-best 12 points and five rebounds in 23-plus minutes after making his first appearance late in the first quarter. Hayward ended with four points, three assists, two rebounds, two steals and five turnovers in 28 minutes.
"It was obviously a tough night. I didn't do a lot of things that I was proud of," Hayward said. "And it was a struggle, but I played hard and competed, I know that. So I don't have any regrets. I'm going to learn from it."
And coach's assessment of his rookie?
"He did all right. He made some mistakes, but that's part of it," Sloan said. "(Let's) give him a chance to play some and see where he is, and see if he can help us because obviously we need to have help somewhere."
ELSON OUT: Backup big man Francisco Elson will not be available to play because of tendinitis in his left quadriceps muscle. He will get an MRI in Utah today.
Elson's quad has bothered him for a couple of games and he said he was "trying to stick it out" but couldn't any longer.
"It felt weird," he said. "It just flared up."
Elson predicted he'll be back by the Lakers' game Tuesday.
SPEAKING OF CHANGE: Former broadcaster/current Philly coach Doug Collins razzed a Philadelphia reporter after being informed that he's the 13th Sixers' coach in the City of Brotherly Love since Sloan took over as Utah's bench boss in 1988.
"Thanks for reminding me," Collins said, laughing. "I think there's like 240 different coaching changes since he's been in the league."
As everybody guffawed, Collins then added this funny-because-it's-true punch line about the 244 firings: "I've been four of them."
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