Utah Jazz: Josh Howard feels at home with the Jazz

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 10:41 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — After signing a one-year deal with the Utah Jazz a month ago, Josh Howard rushed to find and settle into a comfortable place to live.

"I've been feeling at home," Howard said, "since that first week when I found my apartment."

That statement works for his new place in the city and on the Jazz.

Every additional game he plays with Utah, Howard seems more at home with the squad that has improved by leaps and bounds since he arrived in Utah on Dec. 17.

Some people might still be hesitant about Howard because of his checkered past, but his new family isn't. From his actions, they see no reason to be worried.

The nine-year NBA veteran, who had a string of controversial moments in Dallas several years ago, has been a consummate professional. He's reached out to teammates, tried to be an example to young players, worked hard to learn the system, fit in and help the Jazz win.

His team likes what he's contributed in the locker room and on the court.

"He's a great guy, a great teammate, experienced guy that the guys respect," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "He plays extremely hard. Guys will respect you for that."

The small forward has not shot particularly well yet (41.4 percent), but he's showing glimpses of his 2007 All-Star-level play thanks to his experience, athleticism and explosiveness.

Howard is third on the Jazz in scoring (11.4 points per game) and has had standout defensive moments with his athleticism.

"He looks like the Josh Howard that I knew and loved in Dallas," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "He's got his confidence back."

It helps that Howard's left knee has bounced back nicely after surgery to repair a torn ligament (MCL) and ensuing tendinitis issues hampered it for most of the past two seasons.

"You can tell his knee's back. I went through that same injury and I know what it takes to get back to feeling that confidence, 100 percent," said Jefferson, who had surgery to repair his MCL in 2009.

"One thing I have noticed is he's not thinking about that knee no more. He's doing his thing and playing his game."

Howard played 34 minutes in the Jazz's overtime loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, marking the first time he's logged 30-plus.

The only time he played fewer than 19 minutes, though, was when he left early with a strained left quad on Jan. 3 against Milwaukee. He's averaging 231/2 minutes — fifth-highest on the team — showing how quickly he has gained Corbin's trust.

The second-year coach called Howard's mid-camp addition "huge" for the Jazz, especially the team's bench.

"He's been tremendous — his experience, the way he play(s) the game," Corbin said. "His energy level's been great. The way he leads that second group. The way he keeps everybody relaxed (until) the starting group comes back in."

Howard has also played with most of the starting unit late in games, leading some to wonder if he'll eventually end up in the opening lineup.

Howard played sparingly with Washington last season due to his nagging knee injury, but he worked himself into good shape this offseason — even playing pick-up ball with Jazz starting point guard Devin Harris in Dallas.

Howard almost has those NBA legs back under him.

"He's worked his tail off to get in shape," Corbin said.

Howard quickly picked up the basic aspects of the Jazz system he became familiar with by playing against it since 2003.

Corbin wasn't sure how quickly Howard — or the rest of the Jazz newcomers, for that matter — would catch on and allow for the playbook to be opened up. But Utah is beginning to implement more complexity into its offense with second and third options.

It will give the Jazz more options if the 31-year-old hits 3-pointers like he did Wednesday when he drilled two treys after starting the season 0-for-8 from long range.

Howard said offensive chemistry is a "work in progress."

"I'm happy with his progress," Corbin added. "(He's) at least on schedule, maybe a little bit ahead."

That could be said of Howard's new team as well.

Sure, the Jazz fell to the Lakers by three in the OT heartbreaker. But that didn't sting as badly as the humiliating hammering they took in the season-opening 25-point loss in L.A.

"Two totally different teams," Howard said. "We have been learning a lot since the few weeks from that game. We just have to be ready to start a new streak now."

Interestingly, they'll get that chance Saturday when several Jazz players who used to feel at home in Utah, like he does now, make their return.

Coincidentally, that group includes an old Jazz guy who used to wear his No. 8.

Email: jody@desnews.com

Twitter: DJJazzyJody

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