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Utah Jazz: Focus on health, not playoffs

Published: Tuesday, July 28 2015 1:47 p.m. MDT

MINNEAPOLIS — He pointed it out several days back, complaining about advertisements promoting postseason ticket sales.
Yet still, with just nine games and 18 days remaining in the regular season, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan continues to be bugged by folks getting ahead of themselves.
"Everybody's talking about, 'Congratulations on making the playoffs.' We haven't made 'em," said Sloan, whose Northwest Division-leading club visits Minnesota this afternoon.
"If we have four guys that don't play for three or four days, that's gonna hurt our team," he added. "Just like any other team. We're no different than anybody else. That's why you have to take care of business every single day you possibly can."
Sloan said that on a night the Jazz closed with three starters out and ailing, as both center Mehmet Okur and shooting guard Ronnie Brewer missed all of Friday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers because of the effects of a stomach virus, and small forward Andrei Kirilenko exited at halftime with muscle spasms in his right calf.
A fourth Jazz player, backup power forward Paul Millsap, finished Friday, but he was ill as well, vomiting due to chest congestion.
The situation was bleak enough that the Jazz were prompted to recall rookies Morris Almond and Kyrylo Fesenko from the NBA Development League's Utah Flash, which played Friday night in Boise.
Both joined the team in time for practice Saturday, when the Jazz's health situation became a bit clearer:

OKUR remains ill and didn't make the one-game trip, so backup Jarron Collins is likely to make a second straight start. He could be relieved if needed by Fesenko, a 7-foot-1 Ukrainian who has averaged 10.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 37 games for the Flash.
"Jarron was ready to play," Sloan said of Collins, who had four rebounds in Friday's first quarter. "The good thing about him: He comes in and does all the work, he's very professional about what he does, and that's the way it's supposed to be.
"Other people sometimes think you're mistreating them because you're not playing them. (But) there'll be some opportunities, and you've got to be ready when they come. He, I thought, was ready to try to do the best he could (Friday) night."

KIRILENKO did travel, but the Jazz are calling him "doubtful" for today. No timetable beyond that was made available. He was replaced for the beginning of Friday's second half by veteran Matt Harpring, who hasn't made any starts this season.
"It's a tough job," Sloan said of Harpring's reserve role. "It takes a lot of concentration. You have to stay with what you're doing to try to make it work. That's why Matt Harpring's been so valuable to us. He's been able to come off the bench, and you don't have to give him 10 possessions to get him warmed up.
"He looks like he's never warmed up when he's sitting there," Sloan added, "but as soon as he steps on that floor, he's ready to roll, and that's a big asset."

BREWER also traveled and plans to play today.
Ditto for Millsap, who scored 13 Friday.
"It was pretty bad," Brewer said of his illness. "I thought maybe I had food poisoning, but (it was) just like a flu bug or something."
All the uncertainty prompted the recalls of 2007 first-round draft choice Almond and second-rounder Fesenko, who earlier this season appeared in six and seven games for the Jazz, respectively.
"What we really looked at," general manager Kevin O'Connor said, "was that we weren't sure of the availability of some of our players and how long they're going to be out."
Because Fesenko has been assigned to the Flash three times this season, he cannot be reassigned again — and instead will finish out the season with the parent club.
"If this had been three months ago I don't know if we would have done it if it was the last callup," O'Connor said. "But with five (Flash) games left and the pennant race ... we're in, it's good for the Utah Jazz."
Almond — who has averaged 25.0 points and 1.6 assists in 31 D-League games — remains eligible for another assignment to the Flash.
But it remains to be seen what his short-term future holds.
"Uhhh, there's a small crack in the door," the Rice University product said of the opportunity, "but you just kind of take it day by day."
"Right now," Sloan added, "we're just worried about trying to win the next game."
The 48-25 Jazz are just two games out of first place in the NBA's Western Conference yet still aren't assured of a playoff berth in a conference with nine contenders and eight spots available.
They did consider signing someone from outside the organization, O'Connor suggested, but decided otherwise in part because of how little time remains in the season.
"'Go with what we've got.' That's always been the philosophy of coach (Sloan)," O'Connor said. "He'd rather have somebody that knows what we're doing."
Especially with work still to be done.


Contributing: Linda Hamilton
E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com

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