Mike Terry, Deseret News
ORLANDO, Fla. — He started at small forward for every game in which he played last season.
The presumption, at least by some with the Jazz, was that he would open this season as a starter too.
But C.J. Miles saw that notion blow up in smoke, or at least the fog of London.
Miles ruptured a ligament in the thumb on his left, shooting hand during an early October practice prior to a Jazz preseason game there.
Now, one surgery and more than two months later, Miles may be getting his starting job back.
It's been babysat for the past 19 games by rookie Wesley Matthews, who has opened at shooting guard with the usual starting shooting guard Ronnie Brewer, shifted to small forward.
But for the second half of Saturday's win at Charlotte, in Miles' ninth game played following surgery, Matthews found himself watching from the bench.
Miles opened the half instead, and afterward coach Jerry Sloan said he'd spend Sunday — along with his assistants — pondering the possibility of making the move a permanent one.
"He plays with a lot of confidence when he's on the floor most of the time," Sloan said of Miles, who while just 22 years old — one younger than the undrafted Matthews — is in his fifth NBA season straight out of high school in Dallas.
"He's been hurt, so we've been trying to move him along slowly and not too fast," added Sloan, whose Jazz visit Orlando tonight in stop No. 4 of their five-game pre-Christmas trip. "But we needed him to play (Saturday night). Fortunately, he stepped up and did a good job."
Miles shot 8-for-16 from the field, scored 20 points, pulled down five rebounds, dished three assists, made three steals and blocked a couple shots while logging 35 minutes against the Bobcats.
He's shot 44.9 percent, including 35.5 percent from 3-point range, post-surgery.
"I think I've had some times where I don't allow myself to really get in the flow of the game," said Miles, who is getting more and more comfortable on the floor. "I mean, I get open shots here and there. But as far as, like, the whole game, you're able to play a lot better when you allow yourself to get going like that.
"Conditioning-wise, I still can get better from practicing and playing. But as far as the game, I see everything better (lately). The speed's a lot slower, and I can make plays better. ... It's not just catch-and-shoot the ball."
Matthews, though, has made quite a case for keeping a prominent role — and still may, especially with veteran shooting guard Kyle Korver's surgically repaired knee acting up over the weekend. The Marquette product has averaged 8.4 points while shooting 47.4 percent for the 16-11 Jazz.
Still, Sloan seems to be seriously considering seeing how things go with Miles reunited with fellow starters Deron Williams, Brewer, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.
"You know, Wes is playing against some pretty tough players every night he steps out there, and he's disadvantaged sometimes size-wise," Sloan said of Matthews, who is listed at 6-foot-5 — one inch shorter than Miles.
"C.J.'s just a little bit longer, has a little bit more experience. Usually those guys don't get in foul trouble quite as often as younger guys."
Miles and the rest of the Jazz are likely to find out this morning what Sloan and his staff decided to do.
"I don't know," Miles said. "Either way it goes, I'm just going to play hard. ... That's all I can do."
"That's up to coach," Williams added. "I think before the season, C.J. was going to be the starter. I think he's playing well enough (to start now). But I think Wes also deserves minutes. So, I don't think it really matters who starts the game. It matters who finishes."
Jazz at Magic
Tonight, 5 p.m.
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