DENVER — The injury scare for the team plagued by ailments and illnesses last season came frighteningly early this year.
Only 24 seconds into the Utah Jazz's 2009-10 regular season, center Mehmet Okur tried to take a charge Wednesday night. Instead, he took a painful fall to the floor and a trip to the trainer's room after getting his left foot stepped on by the Denver Nuggets' hard-driving, 250-pound Nene.
Make that a double ouch — one for Okur and another for a Jazz squad that had to be thinking, "Here we go again," after already being hammered hard by injuries in the preseason.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said the team couldn't feel sorry for itself.
And it didn't need to for too long anyway.
Okur limped 30 feet to the bench and stayed there for only a moment, shortly thereafter hobbling off the court and into the team's locker room with trainer Gary Briggs.
Though diagnosed with a mild sprained left knee and ankle, the center didn't spend too much time away from the action. Okur got his ankle retaped, put a sleeve on his knee, iced the injured parts for a minute and then made his way back into the arena.
With 4:38 remaining in the first quarter, the eight-year veteran reported to the scorer's table.
"I didn't want to wait," he said while soaking both ankles in a yellow mop bucket full of ice after the game. "I just wanted to keep going. I wanted to go out and give my best."
And he did. After returning to the game feeling "warm," Okur went out and started doing the hurting.
Okur hit a long jumper less than a minute later, drilled an even-longer 3-pointer just after that and kept on shooting the lights out to finish the first half with 12 points.
Okur hit five of his six first-half shots, making you wonder what he might've done with two good legs. He even ended up playing 15 minutes before returning to the locker room at halftime.
The sharpshooting Turk cooled off considerably in the second half. He missed all five shots after the break, and finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
More importantly, he physically felt "all right now but a little sore" after the 114-105 loss.
"It could've been worse," he said, "because I just tweaked my knee."
The 6-foot-11 starter's mishap certainly messed up any guessing contests that included the question: Who will be the first player off the bench for the Jazz in the 2009-10 season?
Paul Millsap? Ronnie Price? Eric Maynor?
Nope, nuh-uh and negative.
Bravo to the brave few who might have picked Kyrylo Fesenko. Bonus for anyone who picked the third-year big man's entry to happen in the first half-minute.31 comments on this story
Fesenko actually held his own, too. The 7-foot-1 center scored twice inside on a left-handed layup and on a power dunk in a run that helped Utah turn an 8-2 deficit into a four-point lead when he was taken out after a seven-minute stretch.
Perhaps most impressive was that foul-prone Fesenko didn't get whistled by the referees. Staying out of foul trouble, he admitted moments before the game, is something he is trying to focus on.
"First of all," said the seldom-used center, "I'm dressing for the game. That's a big difference. ... I feel confident. I'm in good shape."