Utah Jazz: Earl Watson shines in starter's role

Published: Friday, Jan. 28 2011 11:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Earl Watson didn't need much advice about starting an NBA game, considering he had started in 208 of them before the Jazz's 108-100 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.

Good thing, because he didn't get any from the guy he replaced. Watson made his first start in a Utah uniform because Deron Williams was out with a strained tendon in his right wrist.

"I think I'm so old D-Will doesn't need to give me any advice," said the 31-year-old Watson. "He realizes that."

Watson proved the Jazz have a capable fill-in for Williams as the All-Star point guard recuperates from a wrist injury. Watson recorded his first double-double of the season with 10 points and 13 assists to help Utah break a six-game losing streak.

"He was unbelievable," forward Andrei Kirilenko said of Watson. "He was orchestrating our game so well, getting everybody involved. He did a great job replacing Deron."

Watson's job throughout the season has been to spark the Jazz's second unit by providing energy and pushing the pace. He did that from the get-go against the Timberwolves. He tied his previous season-high of seven assists in the first quarter, and helped the Jazz win a first quarter for the first time since they last won a game.

That last victory may seem like ages ago to Jazz fans. It was actually against Cleveland two weeks ago.

"I wanted to get out there, be aggressive, push the ball in transition," Watson said. "It's an easy transition for me to do that and it makes you more comfortable, (and) at the same time, find a balance, make sure my teammates have the ball."

The Jazz were completely confident Watson could capably run the offense in Williams' absence. Coach Jerry Sloan has been impressed with Watson since he joined the league in 2001, and knew he wouldn't back down from a simple challenge of starting against Minnesota.

"Obviously D-Will wasn't there and we still have to play — they're not going to call the games off," Sloan said. "He's (Watson) a tough guy. He's been a tough guy since the day he stepped in the league. We had John Stockton and he (Watson) was a young guy and he didn't back away for a second. He isn't going to back down from anybody. He's going to compete and do the best he can. That's who he is. He's been really good for us."

Watson recorded season-highs in minutes played (38) and assists. It was his first double-double since April 2010 when he played for the Pacers.

"Double-doubles are good, especially when you start," Watson said. "You want to make sure you make your teammates better as a point guard, so double-doubles are cool, something you build off of."

Although Watson was solid against the Timberwolves, he doesn't want to stay in the starting lineup if it means Williams isn't healthy.

"I'm excited to get back to my role though because we need our full team and our full potential in order to get to where we want to get to," Watson said.

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com

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