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Utah Jazz coach must find way to juggle full roster

Sloan faces difficult task of getting all his healthy players some playing time

Published: Friday, Dec. 18 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

ATLANTA — They were dressing only nine players and employing an eight-man rotation for quite a stretch.

But now the Jazz have a glut of healthy, or least available, players.

And so far it's turning out to be more of a burden than a blessing for coach Jerry Sloan, whose 15-10 team visits Atlanta tonight in the second stop on a five-game trip that opened with Wednesday's win at New Jersey.

"I think it's been real tough," point guard Deron Williams said before referencing last Monday's home loss to what at the time was a three-win Minnesota team. "I think that was a lot of the problem in the Minnesota game, was a lot of guys were playing out there that haven't played a lot of minutes and haven't really even practiced.

"And other guys were losing their minutes and just lost a little bit of confidence. So, it's just a tough situation for him (Sloan) to be in, of course."

The Minnesota game was the first played this season by backup shooting guard Kyle Korver, who is back from arthroscopic knee surgery; the first game after missing five straight with a strained back for backup small forward Andrei Kirilenko; and the seventh time dressed for former starting small forward C.J. Miles, who is back from preseason surgery to repair a ruptured ligament in his shooting-hand thumb.

"We definitely have more options," Williams said, "but, at the same time, like I said, we've been on a kind of a rotation, and now the rotation is getting messed up. And it was a time when we were playing our best basketball of the season.

"Coach is doing a good job of telling them just be ready. You know, he said it: He's in a tough position," the Jazz point guard added. "He's got to play guys here and there, just find a rhythm and find a routine and see who's playing good. I mean guys like Wes (Matthews) — you just can't put him to the bench now, because he's been playing great for us."

The Minnesota game followed a week in which the Jazz won one game each against San Antonio, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers.

To that point, rookie Matthews — now starting at small forward — was averaging 25.9 minutes per game.

With Miles sick that night, Matthews played 33 against Minnesota. But Korver was 0-for-3 from the field in his 13 minutes against the Timberwolves.

On Wednesday at New Jersey, Korver logged 11 minutes, Miles nine and Matthews a below-average 20.

Tough spot, indeed.

"Ideally," Sloan said, "I'd like to play five guys and not have to substitute."

Instead, he now finds himself juggling less than fully healthy players — Korver's knee still isn't quite right; Kirilenko admitted earlier this week his conditioning isn't great; and combo guard Ronnie Price, who played two scoreless minutes Wednesday after missing 15 straight games with a toe/foot injury, still seems to be hobbling — with a greater task.

"I'm trying to win the game, not practice medicine," Sloan said. "That's where the problem comes in. You try to start practicing that, that's where you get in trouble."

The Jazz's rotation, then, is in flux — and Sloan has told his charges as much.

No longer is it five starters, and just backup point Eric Maynor, backup power forward Paul Millsap and Kirilenko — plus backup center Kyrylo Fesenko when needed against a big — off the bench.

Price, to date, hasn't been able to wrestle back any platoon minutes at the point from Maynor.

But the toughest puzzle piece seems to be divvying minutes among Utah many wings — Korver, Miles, Kirilenko, Matthews and healthy starter Ronnie Brewer.

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