Utah Jazz: Injuries finally starting to take toll

Published: Friday, Dec. 31 2010 10:00 p.m. MST

Utah's Mehmet Okur is one of the Jazz players who have been hampered by injury this season. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Mehmet Okur is one of the Jazz players who have been hampered by injury this season. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — There have been bouts with gastric distress, a couple of tweaked adductors, along with a few strains and sprains here and there.

And, of course, that troubled tendon in Mehmet Okur's Achilles heel.

But for the most part, the Utah Jazz have been as healthy as an ox this season.

Aside from time Okur missed for surgery rehab, Jazz players had only missed 12 games due to injuries and illnesses coming into this week.

Even with Okur's 29 absences, the Jazz have missed just 44 man games due to various ailments this season. As a comparison, Portland players have now been absent 108 games this season.

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Perhaps one of their Northwest Division rivals started poking a Jazz voodoo doll or maybe they picked up an injury bug on their pre-Christmas trip.

Or could be they just started experiencing what most NBA teams do because of the wear and tear of a rigorous season.

Whatever the case, the Jazz might make an extra toast for good health on this New Year's Day because players are keeping the team's medical staff quite busy lately.

First, Andrei Kirilenko tweaked his lower back in Monday's game.

Then, C.J. Miles got the flu on Wednesday.

Next, Okur, who's been as sturdy and reliable as about any player in the NBA since joining the Jazz in 2004, continued his string of setbacks when he strained his lower back in Wednesday's game.

This Okur injury happened two games into his return from a sprained right ankle, which happened three days after his long-awaited return from his eight-month-long left Achilles rehab.

(The Jazz, by the way, will announce the results of the MRI taken on Okur in Portland sometime today. Team doctor Lyle Mason was expected to review the test after the Jazz returned home Friday.)

As if the Jazz's training room wasn't crowded enough, Francisco Elson has also joined the gingerly walking wounded group.

The backup center has a painful right big toe — an injury that will soon cost him his entire toenail and was caused by not properly breaking in a pair of new shoes. It also limited him to two minutes of action Wednesday and kept him sidelined for Thursday's game.

The Jazz had a day off to end 2010, and it's unknown how many of those four players, if any, will be available for tonight's New Year's home game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

What the Jazz said they do know after Thursday's lackluster loss in Portland, however, is they must respond better to being shorthanded.

Utah ended the 100-89 defeat — its second loss in four nights to the Blazers and third game in as many days — looking like it had run out of gas somewhere on the flight between LAX and Rip City.

"There are no excuses," Jazz center Al Jefferson said. "We just have to learn to play through missing guys due to injury. Guys have been in this league a long time and should be used to that by now.

"We just have to be ready to play with the guys we have every night, and we weren't (Thursday)."

Jazz guard Raja Bell, who has missed the second-most games (four) this season of any player on the team after Okur, admitted the Jazz's health issues "didn't help" against Portland.

It also hurt that Ronnie Price fouled out early in the fourth quarter, leaving the Jazz with only eight available players for the final 10 minutes in a game that remained in reach.

But …

"Obviously, we didn't have enough bodies to come in when we got into foul trouble," Bell said. "I thought we got pushed around. We got manhandled, and I don't care if you have a full lineup or not … if you get manhandled you're going to get beat."

True to his character, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said players simply have to pick up the slack for those missing — and he pointed that out while talking about Okur's latest injury before Thursday's game.

"You hope that everybody stays healthy. It's not an excuse," Sloan said. "If you're looking for excuses, you're looking for failure."

Sloan often talks about how one player's injury can be another player's opportunity.

"There's nothing you can do about it," Sloan said. "That's part of basketball. Guys get hurt. What can you do about it? You've got to go on. You've got to worry about trying to win the game. … That's kind of cold, but it's the hard facts of life."

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