SALT LAKE CITY — Before he left to attend his grandmother's funeral, Jazz center Al Jefferson had a message for his teammates.
Big Al's advice prior to his expected two-game absence Saturday night and Sunday: "I just told them to take care of business and do what they have to do to win."
Jefferson flew to Mississippi after Thursday's overtime win over Minnesota to attend his grandmother's funeral Friday morning. The starting center will remain with his family over the weekend and is expected to miss Saturday night's game against Golden State and Sunday's contest in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
The Jazz will also be without backup point guard Earl Watson for at least Saturday night's game. He is in L.A. to receive laser therapy on his sprained left ankle and will meet up with the team Sunday.
"We've got to make sure we come out and be aggressive," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We have a few guys out of our lineup because of different issues, but we can't afford to take anybody for granted."
Favors is expected to step into Jefferson's starting role, and the pressure will be on the second-year big man and rookie center Enes Kanter to fill Big Al's big void.
"It's going to be a team effort. We've got to come together," said Jazz power forward Paul Millsap, who'll also have a bigger load on his shoulders. "He's going to be dearly missed, but other guys have got to step up for us. We've got to have D-Fav, Enes stepping up for us rebounding, scoring some buckets down in the low post."
NO REGRETS: There are still 23 games remaining — or about a third of the season to go. But the Jazz are in must-win mode, as far as Millsap is concerned.
They missed the playoffs last year, and that is not something he wants to repeat.
"I don't want to be in the summer wishing that we could've, should've done this," Millsap said. "Anytime we get out there, we've got to put it all on the line."
Considering tonight's game is at home against a team in flux that just lost its leading scorer, the pressure is really on the 21-22 Jazz to win and even their record again.
"I'm glad that we don't have to play Monta (Ellis) again. He's kind of killed us in both games. But they're a tough group; they've got some talented scorers, and they're right there in the (playoff) race with us," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "We need these games, we need them for sure, so we need to come out with another focused effort."
BLISSFUL IGNORANCE?: The Jazz will receive the Warriors' first-round pick if it doesn't end up being one of the top seven selections. That's the final piece of the Deron Williams trade in which Utah also received Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, the Nets' No. 1 pick last year (Enes Kanter) and $3 million.
Even so, general manager Kevin O'Connor said he isn't scoreboard watching to see exactly where Golden State is in the standings.1 comment on this story
"I've quit doing that," O'Connor said. "I did it with the New York pick (in 2010). I hated it. I did it after I traded Deron. I hated it. … I can't do it a third year in a row. I don't have enough energy to do it."
SWEET DREAMS: Colorado eked out a victory over UNLV to make it to the next round of the NCAA tournament. Would-be Buff junior Alec Burks is rooting on his former teammates, but the Jazz guard also daydreams about what might have been had he not left for the NBA after his sophomore season.
"I'm telling you," the confident 20-year-old said with a smile, "if I was there, we would have won the title."