SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Howard is downright delighted that he and his Utah Jazz teammates have earned an NBA playoff spot.
But after missing more than a month and 19 games of the regular season with a knee injury that required surgery, the 6-foot-7 veteran swingman realizes he might not get too many opportunities to contribute during their postseason play.
After all, while Howard was rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee and working his tail off to get back into game shape, the Jazz altered their player rotation, learned to play without him in the lineup and staged a late-season surge.
Howard finally returned to the court in Tuesday night's game against the Phoenix Suns, a 100-88 Utah victory that clinched for the Jazz no worse than the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. He made his first two shots of the game, then missed his next four attempts to finish 2-of-6 from the floor for four points with one rebound in a little less than six minutes of playing time — certainly not the role he had before his injury, when he averaged nearly nine points and four rebounds per game and started 18 games, but a role he must now accept so as not to upset the apple cart when it comes to the team's winning chemistry.
Asked what he thought his role might be from here on out, Howard said, "probably cheerleader, which I don't mind. I've been part of that, sitting there watching and not being able to play because of injury. "But you know I'm available this time, so it's up to Coach (Tyrone Corbin). Hell, yeah, I want to get out there, man. I wouldn't have worked this hard to get back and then sit on the bench."
With a playoff berth safely secured, Corbin is likely to give his starters more rest in tonight's regular-season finale against Portland, so Howard could see some extra time on the court against the Trail Blazers.
However, there is definitely something that Howard brings to the Jazz that very few of their other players possess — plenty of postseason experience. Among all the Jazzmen, only shooting guard Raja Bell — who's also trying to come back from mid-season surgery on his left knee — has played more postseason games than Howard.
For six straight years from 2004 through 2009, Howard was a member of the Dallas Mavericks' playoff teams, averaging 15.5 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 62 playoff games — starting 57 of them. After his rookie year of 2004, Howard averaged over 15 ppg in the postseason every year but one and helped the Mavs reach the NBA Finals in 2006. In the 2007 playoffs, he averaged a career-best 21.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.
"I know what I can do, I know what I bring to the table as far as playoff experience as well," said Howard, who'll turn 32 years old in a couple of days. "So it's just a matter of time. "But I'm proud of these guys. (The experts) had us picked last in the West, so for us to come out and prove a lot of people wrong says a lot. So regardless what happens in the series, for us to make it to this point gives a lot of guys confidence.
"I am the only one to make it to the Finals in here, and then to make it to the playoffs consistently for six straight years, you can't beat that," Howard said. "And even though I might not be playing, like I said, I'll be a great cheerleader and just let those guys know what to do out there in those situations. I know the first thing not to expect is to get any fouls called — that'll be the first thing you can go ahead and hang your hat on."
C.J. STILL ON THE D.L.: Another Jazz swingman who's been sidelined is C.J. Miles, who hasn't played since April 8 after suffering a strained muscle in his left calf.
Miles was averaging nine points and two rebounds a game before missing Utah's last eight games with the injury, and although he still hasn't been able to run, jump or practice with the team yet, he's pleased with his teammates' late-season playoff push.
"I'm happy for them, for my team," he said. "I mean, I'm on the team, too, but they're my teammates and I'm happy for the guys and what they've accomplished, winning those games. And I'm at the arena cheering 'em on and in the locker room and when they come off the court. I'm happy for them.
"Of course I want to be out there, I want to help my team, but they don't need it right now.
"Hopefully, in another three or four days, I might be able to try to get running and moving," Miles said, "but that's not to say that I'm going to be able to play. Hopefully I'll be able to, I want to."
TY'S GOT BIG AL'S VOTE: Utah's starting center, leading scorer and rebounder, Al Jefferson, said Corbin deserves some consideration for the NBA Coach of the Year award.
"I think he deserves it, man," Big Al said. "For a team that was picked to be last in the West, he coached us and led us into the playoffs. You can't deny that. You've got to consider him."