With an important road trip with huge playoff implications starting today in Houston, the Utah Jazz are hoping their recent starting lineup switch keeps paying dividends.
The Jazz play three games in four days, with Memphis on tap Monday and Oklahoma City on Wednesday. To stay in the playoff race, the Jazz need a couple of wins on the trip, especially against Memphis, which is one game ahead of them in the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"They're huge as far as the importance of the playoff race," said coach Ty Corbin. "The thing we talk about most is how we're playing and getting a consistency of who we are. That will be real important on this road trip to go and play Jazz-style basketball."
Corbin said he plans to keep C.J. Miles in the starting lineup instead of veteran Raja Bell, who had started all season when he was healthy. Miles responded to his starting role with two solid games last week, including a sensational 40-point outing Wednesday night in the win over Minnesota.
"It's a better rhythm for me starting the game," Miles said. "The spacing's a little different with the guys out on the floor with Al (Jefferson) taking up so much space and Devin (Harris) at the point. I play hard every night, but I've just been able to have success with it."
Although he's been a starter in the past, it was only Miles' sixth and seventh starts of the season and both resulted in victories. He had started 126 of the 255 games he played prior to this year, including 72 of his 72 games in the 2008-09 season.
However, this year coach Jerry Sloan told him before the season, he wanted him to come off the bench and bring some "offensive power" to the second group.
"I just accepted it," Miles said. "There were tough nights and good nights."
Miles made just one start while Sloan was the coach this year, but started the first three games after Corbin took over when Bell suffered a leg injury. The Jazz lost all three, but Miles helped the team get off to good starts in each and scored 19, 19 and 20 points in the three games. He started one more game, the road win against Toronto earlier this month, and scored 23.
Corbin said he made the switch because he wanted a quicker start for his team and because he feels Miles can contribute more in a starting role.
"Hopefully it gets us off to a better start," Corbin said. "We lost so many games in a row there and we were giving up so many points early in the game, we just needed a change. C.J. gets more minutes on the floor (as a starter) and gets a chance to get off right from the beginning of the game. His numbers certainly indicate that he's better as a starter."
As a starter this year, Miles averages 22.0 points on 48.7 percent shooting, 43.6 percent from 3-point range and 94 percent from the line. Off the bench, he averages 11.9 points on 40.2 shooting, 33 percent from 3-point range and 80.8 from the line.
"He's come along pretty well and the team has rallied around how he's playing," Corbin said. "It gives us another guy they have to pay attention to on both ends of the floor, so as long as things go well and we can get good production off the bench, we'll stay like we have been."
With Memphis a game up on Utah right now, Monday's game looks be the most important of the trip since the Jazz can make up a full game on the team right ahead of them. However, Corbin said he won't pay more attention to that game than the other two.
"One at a time, they're all important at this stage," he said. "We need to win as many as we can, but it's real important to go out and play the way we talk about playing and who we are. If we don't, we're going to struggle."
JAZZ NOTES: Corbin said he's hoping to have Paul Millsap back in the starting lineup tonight. ... This is one of only two three-games-in-four-days road trips of the season. ... With home games against New Orleans Thursday and Dallas Saturday, the Jazz will play five games this week. ... Miles celebrated his 24th birthday Friday but didn't do anything special. "It was just another day. I had an appearance at an autograph signing and went to eat at Outback. That's about it," he said. ... Former Jazz guard Deron Williams may shut down for the season because of his injured wrist, according to a report out of New Jersey.