Utah Jazz: Al Jefferson discovering his niche

Published: Sunday, Nov. 21 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

Al Jefferson (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Al Jefferson (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — C.J. Miles put on a shooting exhibition from long range Saturday night at the Rose Garden.

And it was the streaky shooter who snapped the bottom of the net time after seven times.

But Miles' 3-point bonanza — a career shooting night for the 23-year-old and one of the best-ever in franchise history — gave a glimpse of what's possible out of the Utah Jazz's offense when another player has his groove on.

Big man Al Jefferson didn't just find his game against Portland. He also opened up things on the outside, giving guys like Miles extra space and time to find their stroke.

Phil Johnson, who assumed head coaching responsibilities with Jerry Sloan gone attending a family funeral, explained that the Jazz's most successful plays in the 103-94 victory at Portland weren't drawn up to take advantage Miles' hot hand.

Rather, they were intended to give Jefferson more scoring opportunities, following the Jazz's philosophy of working the offense from the inside-out.

"A lot of that was we were trying to get the ball to Al," Johnson said. "We were just running simple plays for Al and then he would kick it out and then C.J. made some shots.

"Al made some shots, so they helped," Johnson added. "It was pretty simple."

Jefferson's buckets weren't nearly as flashy as Miles' seven long bombs, though they both ended up hitting eight field goals.

Jefferson returns home tonight against visiting Sacramento, having turned in what was hands down one of his best nights in a Jazz uniform. And the 6-foot-10 post player had success against lengthier Blazers such as 6-foot-11 Marcus Camby and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Twelve of Jefferson's points came in the second half, including six early in the fourth quarter as Utah surged back from a nine-point deficit to begin the final period.

Jefferson's block of an Andre Miller layup attempt sparked a fast break the other way, as Earl Watson picked up the ball, zoomed downcourt and dished off to Ronnie Price for an 84-80 Jazz lead and a 13-point turnaround in less than six minutes.

Jefferson led all Jazz players in playing time with a hair over 41 minutes, and he hit 8-of-13 shots and all four free throws, grabbed 14 boards for his fifth double-double with Utah. He also had two swats, two assists and a steal that countered his one turnover.

It was a far superior effort than the 10-point, six-board stinker he put up against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in Friday's 94-82 home loss.

The bounce-back performance wasn't only a critical component in Utah's rebound outing, but it was reminiscent of how he responded in a back-to-back situation on the East Coast swing.

Jefferson was benched for the fourth quarter and overtime against Miami — where he assume the role of cheerleader during the pivotal moments of that exciting 22-point comeback.

But the next night in Orlando, Jefferson followed his two-point dud in South Beach with an inspired 21-point gem in the come-from-behind win over the Magic.

His coach appreciated that quick refocus.

"He did that when we played Miami," Johnson recalled. "He had a tough night and then he came back against Orlando, so that's Al."

Now the Jazz just hope they can get a consistent contribution from Jefferson. The 25-year-old has only hit 20 points twice in the past two weeks — and Utah is 4-1 when he scores 20 or more. His field-goal percentage (.474) has also been spotty.

Saturday's game was only the fifth time in 14 games Jefferson has shot 50 percent or better this season.

Johnson admitted after Saturday's win that it will take time for this revamped roster to completely jell, so it's not surprising that there are inconsistencies.

"We're a work in progress," Johnson said.

They've shown this much so far: When their system works — and they get big performances from Jefferson — the 9-5 Jazz are as dangerous as any team in the league.

"I really was thinking I could come in and fit right in and get this offense like that," Jefferson said. "But it's a work in progress for me. But I'm gonna get it. I'm gonna get it, and it's gonna get better and better for me."

Contributing: Tim Buckley

e-mail: jody@desnews.com

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