Utah Jazz: Players have missed 66 man-games

Published: Friday, Dec. 5 2008 12:41 a.m. MST

Barely more than a month into the 2008-09 NBA season, the Jazz already have lost 66 man-games to injury and personal leave.

That's more than double what future Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone missed in their 37 combined seasons playing for the Jazz.

It's also 21 more than Jazz players missed all of last season, and — though perhaps unlikely to actually soar this high — it's on pace for more than 270 total games lost by the time this season is done.

Yet there is some solace within the massive cloud that continues to hover, even now that starting point guard Deron Williams is back from a preseason ankle injury and two other key cogs — sixth man Andrei Kirilenko and All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer — may be on the verge of returning.

Before getting to them, though, the latest update from the Jazz infirmary is as follows:

• Kirilenko (irritated right ankle), reserve forward Matt Harpring (strained lower back) and reserve big man Kyrylo Fesenko (same) all are listed as game-time decisions for tonight's late-starting ESPN-televised meeting at home with the Toronto Raptors, and Kirilenko is hopeful he can go.

• Boozer is listed as "doubtful," but he suggested earlier this week that he probably won't play against until sometime next week at the earliest due to a strained left quadriceps tendon that already has caused him to miss eight straight games.

• Power forward Paul Millsap — who has been starting in Boozer's place, and who had a double-double in Wednesday's home loss to Miami — is being called "probable" because of a left big toe he sprained against the Heat.

• And reserve big man Jarron Collins (inflamed right elbow) remains out long-term.

And now, the silver linings ...

One is that reserve shooting guard Morris Almond, the only 2007 NBA first-round draft choice whose third-season contract option was not picked up, is logging lots of minutes and actually impressing the Jazz brass.

When earlier this season the team decided against exercising its option, there was talk that the Jazz were trying to trade Almond.

They didn't.

And while it still remains likelier than not that Almond will be playing elsewhere next season, such chatter — at least for the time being, especially after double-digit scoring nights and decent defensive efforts in Utah's last two outings — has been squelched.

In fact, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan even offered up rare praise for Almond after he scored a career-high 12 points and was used late in Tuesday's narrow win at Sacramento, saying, perhaps for the first time, both, "I was proud of the way he played," and "I thought he worked very hard defensively."

Another is that with Boozer out now and starting center Mehmet Okur earlier missing games to be with his ill father in Turkey, 2008 first-round rookie Kosta Koufos has had unexpected time to develop.

The Ohio State product has played 13, 22 and 21 minutes in the Jazz's last three games, respectively — much more, Sloan suggested, than he'd get if everyone were healthy.

Still, Sloan said, "I think he's learned a lot, from where he was."

That's a good and much-needed thing in Sloan's mind, especially considering Koufos is just 19 years old — the NBA's second-youngest player this season behind only Golden State's Anthony Randolph, and the Jazz's third-youngest ever to start a game.

"Young players have so far to go to try to figure out what's going on, especially when teams do different things, and they make you make adjustments, and you try to figure out what you're doing defensively," Sloan said. "Wheels start turning on young guys, and it's a mess."

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