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.
"I don't know how it's gonna work," Sloan said. "I mean, when you have to integrate other guys in with these guys that have been playing and doing a pretty good job, the guys have got to step up a notch to stay on the floor longer.
"And I'm not gonna bat 100 percent trying to play the five guys at one position. That's where the tough part comes in ... to see what gives us the best chance to win when we have them out there."
"I just tried to mention to them it's not an easy thing to do," he added, "but we'll have to work it the best way we can and hopefully they'll be ready to play when they're called upon."
Sloan — who said after Wednesday's game that his formerly unavailable players are "not in very good shape; that shows" — simply can't keep everyone happy.
An understanding Korver, for one, realizes the pickle that presents.
"We've had this the past couple of years — a lot of wings. And everyone's healthy all of a sudden," he said. "So, it's a challenge, for sure. But, you know, we just have to be ready whenever it's your turn and try to play well. If you play well, you'll probably play a little bit more.40 comments on this story
"I think we all have to realize, no matter who it is, if someone's got it going a littler bit, you want to leave them in the game," Korver added. "The bottom line is you want to win. If you win, then it doesn't matter (who's playing) quite as much. If you lose, then it kind of stinks."
It does, Williams will attest.
"You know, he's got to play guys," Williams said. "You can't just sit guys out for the whole year. You have to work them back in, somehow. It's a tough place for Coach to be in."