Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The NBA has rewarded Al Jefferson for his recent play, which has helped put the Utah Jazz on the doorstep of the playoffs.
On Monday, Jefferson was named the NBA's Western Conference player of the week for games played from April 16-22. During that period, Big Al had three double-doubles, averaging 20 points and 15.3 rebounds, and played a key role in the Jazz winning three straight and improving to the No. 8 spot in the West.
Miami's LeBron James, who averaged 31 points and 58 percent shooting, earned the Eastern Conference player of the week honor.
This is the first time a Jazz player has been recognized this season, and it's Jefferson's fourth player of the week award in his eight-year career. Jefferson's best game came in Monday's triple-overtime victory when he hauled in a career-high-tying 26 rebounds to go with 28 points against the Mavericks.
The award hadn't been announced at Jazz practice Monday morning, but Jefferson's focus was solely on winning tonight's home game against Phoenix — even more than talking about the playoffs.
"I'm just looking at it like a game that we have to win," Jeffeson said. "Once we win and it's official we in, I'll let everything settle in on me."
Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll offered this Twitter pat on the back: "Congrats to my dude big Al Jefferson for winning NBA Player of the week. #JAZZNATION We in here."
READY TO RETURN?: Josh Howard and Raja Bell went through a full practice for the first time while rehabbing from knee issues.
It's possible both could be in uniform for tonight's play-in game against the Suns.
Howard hasn't played since March 18 and had a scope to clean up his injured left knee a month ago. Bell received an injection of a medicated lubricant in his ailing left knee a couple of weeks ago.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said he hasn't made up his mind how he might use either player, who were starters before their injuries.
"If we get into the playoffs, we're going to need everybody," Corbin said, "and the experience that (Howard) and Raja have will help us some."
Howard believes he can work his way back into the rotation without messing up the Jazz's chemistry.
"I worked hard enough to get to this point before the season ended," he said. Hopeful that Monday's practice would go well, Howard added, "There's a good chance I'll be dressed up (tonight) ready to play."
Bell, who's been sidelined since March 15, also said his knee feels well, but he's just trying to get into playing shape again.
"If they (coaches) think that we might lend something that they don't already have, then that will be his challenge. They've been playing well. If he decides that that's not a great move at this time, then that's what he decides. I can't really call it."
Neither Earl Watson (knee surgery) nor C.J. Miles (calf strain) will be available to play.
SPECIAL GUEST: Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan attended Saturday's home contest against Orlando, marking the first time he's gone to a Jazz game since he surprisingly resigned a year ago February.
His replacement couldn't have been happier to have him there, either.
"It was tremendous to see him in at the game," Corbin said. "It was just great to see him sitting enjoying basketball."
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