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Jeffers impresses in bid to make Utah Jazz final roster

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 8:32 p.m. MDT

Utah's Andrei Kirilenko (47) drives the ball past Phoenix's Earl Clark in preseason action on Tuesday night. Kirilenko scored 10 points.      (Christian Petersen, Getty Images) Utah's Andrei Kirilenko (47) drives the ball past Phoenix's Earl Clark in preseason action on Tuesday night. Kirilenko scored 10 points. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The lineup tinkering continued for the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.

For that matter, so did the preseason winning.

An unlikely source involved in the revolving rotation played a pivotal role in making that 105-100 victory over the Phoenix Suns happen, too.

Al Jefferson led the 3-0 Jazz in scoring with 16 points with five rebounds, again displaying his array of interior skills. C.J. Miles added 13 points and Andrei Kirilenko chipped in 10 off the bench at US Airways Center.

That wasn't unexpected.

What Othyus Jeffers contributed was.

The former D-Leaguer, who's fighting for his NBA life with the Jazz, sparked Utah after being inserted into the starting lineup. The undersized shooting guard, who replaced Ryan Thompson as the starter in Utah's third different starting lineup, gutted his way to 12 mostly inside points on 5-for-7 shooting and three rebounds.

"He played pretty well," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's alive. He's an active guy. He's not afraid to get around the basket, and he's got a knack of trying to get the ball back into the basket once he gets down there."

Tell the Suns' 7-footer Robin Lopez about it. Jeffers twice scored with Phoenix's starting center hovering above him. One time, Jeffers somehow squeezed between the double team of Lopez and 6-foot-10 Hedo Turkoglu for an inside hoop. Later on, Jeffers wiggled underneath a rebounding Lopez, tugged the ball out of his hands and then burst back up for a bucket.

"He goes after the ball," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "He's attacking the basket relentlessly. ... He's hanging around that baseline like Ronnie Brewer."

Minus several inches in height, even if Jeffers is listed at a generous 6-foot-5.

"That's a dream come true, first of all," Jeffers said of his starting opportunity. "It was time to show you're a professional — and I showed it a little bit."

When Jeffers was pulled out with four minutes left in the first quarter, Suns fans were erupting in cheers. Granted, it's 100 percent likely they were responding to Raja Bell as the former fan favorite in Phoenix trotted off the bench for the Jazz.

But the way Jeffers was playing, it seemed plausible they could have been cheering his exit. At the time, after all, he'd been the Jazz's biggest spark with an energetic eight points and two rebounds.

There were some rough moments in there, but it was a good start for a player with a nonguaranteed contract fighting for a roster spot. Jeffers, who earned a spot on Utah's team for 14 regular season games and the playoffs last spring, came in to Tuesday's game averaging 6.0 points in 6.5 minutes this preseason. He grabbed offensive rebounds, hustled all over the place and got out of some tight spots with his creative athleticism.

"He's been making his presence felt whenever he's on the floor," Williams said. "Looks like a guy who wants to make this team."

The Jazz won despite not having a statistical advantage in rebounding (46-39), assists (23-22) or shooting (45.0 percent compared to 43.8 percent).

"I thought I saw some of the worst shots I've ever seen us take," Sloan said. "It looked like we got selfish."

After the nice ovation, Bell played sparingly in his Phoenix reunion. The former Suns player scored five points in his second straight game as a sub. He came up limping after taking a charge by Grant Hill, but walked it off and quickly drained a 3-pointer.

This was also the best outing so far for roster hopeful Demetris Nichols. He didn't play Thursday, was held scoreless on Monday but responded with nine points with a couple of 3-pointers.

Center Kyrylo Fesenko came back down to earth a bit after his 18-point effort Monday, but he still had a solid showing with nine points, six rebounds and an impressive 3-for-4 free-throw night.

The Jazz return home for a Thursday night rematch with Phoenix — a game that will actually be televised for a change — before hitting the road in Southern California for three straight.

e-mail: jody@desnews.com

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