After his rocky summer and a rough beginning to the 2009-10 season, the San Antonio Spurs turned out to be just what Carlos Boozer needed.
While snapping out of a funk in Utah's first win over the Spurs, Boozer also rediscovered his confidence and found the playing form that helped him earn spots on two Olympic and All-Star teams.
"I just chilled out and relaxed," Boozer recalled, "and ever since then, I just took off."
Prior to the takeoff, Boozer's wheels were spinning on the tarmac. He opened the season by hitting just 13-of-42 shots (30.9 percent), and then only played 24 minutes in a loss at Dallas.
Since then, though, Boozer has soared to averages of 21.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He notched a season-high 28 points — on a scorching 12-of-14 shooting — in the Thanksgiving Night blowout win over Chicago. That edged his previous best of 27 points, which came in the oh-so-helpful 113-99 home win against San Antonio on Nov. 5.
That victory accomplished the opposite of what most games against the Spurs have done for Jazz players over the past decade — it boosted his self-esteem.
Now Boozer says he's "100 percent" shooting for another All-Star bid and wants to "get back to the elite level" with the Jazz.
"You definitely get confidence when you see the ball go to the rim. You get confidence when you stop your man a couple of times and get a couple of rebounds," Boozer said. "Obviously, the ultimate confidence is when we win — that helps your confidence a great deal. So, all those things came together at the same time."
Though Boozer has hit 60.5 percent of his shots since the win over the Spurs, his accuracy isn't the only thing improved, according to Jerry Sloan.
"I think, as much as anything, his shot selection has gotten better," the Jazz coach said, "and he's passed the ball more, and that's made him even more effective."
Sloan added that Boozer is adapting better to getting double-teamed, and credited the power forward for becoming a more consistent threat away from the basket.
"That's kind of the same way Karl Malone progressed over the years," Sloan said.
Yet Boozer has also been aggressive in attacking the basket and not just settling for easy-out jumpers. That's something Deron Williams has noticed.
"People," he said, "have to pay a lot more attention to him, you know, when he's attacking the basket, dunking on people, drawing the defense into him."
Utah, meanwhile, has climbed back above .500 at 8-7 after a 1-3 start. It's hardly just a coincidence, either. When Boozer plays well, so, usually, do the Jazz. They are 7-2 when Boozer scores 20 or more but are only 1-5 when he ends in the teens or lower.
"He's playing great for us right now," the Jazz point guard added. "You know, we're starting to win some ballgames again."
Williams sees that combination happening at least through the rest of the NBA season, even though trade talk has been a popular subject regarding Boozer since summertime.
"I think so, the way he's playing," Williams said when asked if he thinks Boozer will be around for the remainder of the season.
ILL AND INJURED: Center Kyrylo Fesenko's status for tonight is uncertain. He stayed home from Jazz practice Friday while dealing with the stomach virus that made him miss Thursday's game.
Meanwhile, C.J. Miles (thumb surgery) increased his workout with the team but didn't participate in live play Friday. Guards Ronnie Price (sprained big toe) and Kyle Korver (knee surgery) were in attendance but didn't practice.
HE SAID IT: TNT'S Kenny Smith: "This Utah Jazz team is not mediocre. This looks like a team that went to the Western Conference Finals two years ago."
SLOW START?: Andrei Kirilenko lauds Boozer for being a teammate who has "a great attitude" and isn't negative in practice or during games. He objects to the notion that Boozer struggled at the beginning of the season.
"I don't think he starts slow," Kirilenko said. "I think he starts great and is getting better and better."
Contributing: Tim Buckley