HOUSTON — The Utah Jazz made a good first step back on the road to recovery Friday night, and now they have another opportunity to gain momentum heading into the All-Star break tonight when they visit the Houston Rockets.
"It's really important that we continue to build," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said after his team's morning shootaround at the Toyota Center. "We want to go into the All-Star break feeling good about how we're playing and not backing into it."
The Jazz (15-14) face a Rockets team (17-14) that has lost three of four games but remains ahead of Utah in playoff positioning. Quick guards Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin present a challenge, and Houston bigs Samuel Dalembert and Luis Scola will be an intriguing match-up with the Jazz's Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
The Rockets have won two straight against the Jazz by a combined three points.
"This is a tough game tonight," Corbin said. "We knew we're going to have to come out and be really aggressive early in the game to have a chance to win."
Utah follows tonight's early tipoff (5 p.m. MT, ROOT TV) with a home game Monday against the red-hot San Antonio Spurs, winners of 10 straight, before finishing the pre-All-Star Weekend schedule up in Minnesota on Wednesday.
Quick shots from shootaround:
The Jazz have had good fortune (knock on wood) this season when it comes to injuries. The team has only missed 13 man games due to injuries, with Josh Howard missing the most (four) due to a left quad strain.
Utah has nobody on the injury list at the moment.
Corbin credited his training staff of trainers Gary Briggs and Brian Zettler along with strength and conditioning coach Mark McKown for doing a "tremendous job" in this compressed season.
Stretching, weightlifting and old-fashioned good luck have played factors in keeping Utah relatively health.
"We've been blessed with that so far," Corbin said. "We've got to make sure we continue the rest of the year."
Jeremy Evans beat Al Jefferson in a post-shootaround 3-point contest with most of the team watching and talking trash. Evans barked after each made three.
"I didn't want to embarrass him," Big Al said.
Evans said contests like that can actually be valuable because they put a player in pressure-packed situations with people watching and making noise like in a game.
Corbin emphasized that it's essential for the Jazz to play their game tonight to have a chance to beat the Rockets.
"We have to create a tempo that's better for us," he said, "and that's being aggressive on both ends of the floor."
Corbin on yet-to-be-unveiled small forward DeMarre Carroll, who was added to the team two weeks ago: "He can flat run for a 3-man. He can get out on the floor."
Carroll hasn't dressed for a Jazz game yet because he's still learning the offense and defense. NBA teams can only dress 13 players, so he's the odd-man out on this 14-deep squad for now.
Corbin isn't committing to give rookie Alec Burks big minutes at the shooting guard spot. He said match-ups and game scenarios will play a factor in whether or not the 20-year-old continues to see a lot of time. Friday was just the third time Burks has played 20 minutes in 28 NBA appearances.
"He did a good job the other night," Corbin said, "so we'll go from there."
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