"Andrei's gonna have to play Kobe (Bryant)," Sloan said. "If I have Andrei on the floor with (starting shooting guard) Ronnie Brewer, then who's going to substitute to give those guys a little break on Kobe?
"That's the bottom line. I've got to have somebody to try to play against (Bryant) when I take somebody out of the game."
Opportunity is all Kirilenko wants.
"I don't really care how you start the game, or you're coming off the bench," he said.
"It's not really an issue, as long as you're playing time on the floor."
? ? ?
Despite missing 13 games due to an ankle that needed in-season surgery, Kirilenko's point production is up a pinch from last season and 3.3 more than during his problematic 2006-07 season.
But from scoring to rebounding to assists to steals and blocks, not to mention minutes, the do-it-all's numbers all are down a bit from his career stats over seven years, all with the Jazz, coming into the season.
Still, when he does play Kirilenko, Sloan suggests he does so with complete confidence.
"He's had some ups and downs, like every player's had some ups and downs," Sloan said.
But, he hastened to add, "I never felt like he wasn't trying to compete in a game. ... I never felt like he wasn't trying out there on the floor."
? ? ?
Ever since the Houston experience, Kirilenko said he's tried "to separate from thinking too much."
But the passion, he insists, still is there.
A glance at his badly bruised knees makes the case.
"Take one look," he said. "It's still burned. Nothing's changed much."
Williams doesn't doubt it: "He's definitely been different since then, as far as working on his game after practice and working with (part-time shooting coach) Jeff (Hornacek). He's doing great things as far as that's concerned. You could see him taking the game serious."
O'Connor senses it, too.
"The one thing I'd say is I think he's battled back from the Houston series," the Jazz GM said. "This year, especially, coming back from ankle surgery and being able to play three weeks later — I think that's showing he has a desire that he wants to play."
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