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Utah Jazz preparing for brutal stretch

Published: Thursday, March 17 2011 3:38 p.m. MDT

Utah's Devin Harris says he isn't looking ahead but has heard rumblings about the team's tough April schedule. ton, Deseret News)play the Nuggets.  (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)       (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's Devin Harris says he isn't looking ahead but has heard rumblings about the team's tough April schedule. ton, Deseret News)play the Nuggets. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Devin Harris pulled out an old trustworthy sports cliché when asked about the remainder of the Utah Jazz's schedule.

The starting point guard said he tries not to look ahead because, well, "I just take it one game at a time."

That might be a good idea. The Jazz could easily freak out if they tried to take on all of their remaining opponents at the same time.

Of their final 13 games, only three come against teams not currently in a playoff position: Houston (35-34), Washington (16-50) and Sacramento (16-50).

Other than that, the 36-33 Jazz face every single Western Conference team in postseason position. That brutal season-ending stretch includes two games against New Orleans and a pair against the Lakers, not to mention road games vs. the Spurs and Thunder as well.

After claiming he doesn't peek at the upcoming slate — aside from what's up next: Houston on Sunday — Harris admitted he's been clued in a bit.

Utah's #5 Devin Harris tries to direct the offensive play as the Jazz and the Nuggets play Thursday, March 3, 2011 at Energy Solutions arena.   (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah's #5 Devin Harris tries to direct the offensive play as the Jazz and the Nuggets play Thursday, March 3, 2011 at Energy Solutions arena. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

"I heard some guys talking about the schedule," he said with a slight smile. "And I heard through the grapevine that we have a brutal April — from what I've heard."

That's why putting a couple of games together before a much-needed break in the schedule — Utah has three days off in a row — was an important step for the playoff-hopeful Jazz.

Harris also looks at the brutality of the schedule as a conquerable challenge.

"We can make up a lot of ground," he said. "It's important that we're healthy and going to the stretch playing well."

Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin calls this pause in game action "huge."

The Jazz are still practicing but they'll be able to get some rest, new guys will become "a little bit more acclimated" to the system and Utah's walking wounded have time to heal up.

Though Andrei Kirilenko took Thursday's practice off with a sore lower back, the Jazz welcomed back Paul Millsap and Ronnie Price to the court.

Both Millsap (knee) and Price (toe) hope to play in Houston after missing multiple games with their respective injuries.

Corbin also said this break will be beneficial for the Jazz "just to get our mind on where we are and wrap around what we need to do to continue to grow as a team."

Added the coach, who's now 5-10: "It's good to get some time on the floor away from just having to worry about games and game preparation."

WORKING IT: Injured Mehmet Okur will likely rehab and get physical therapy both in Salt Lake City and at the P3 performance lab in Santa Barbara, Calif., while trying to get his left Achilles tendon and strained lower back to full strength and health, his coach said Thursday.

A day after the team announced the eighth-year center is done for the regular season, Corbin said Okur's presence around the Jazz will be missed.

"I was disappointed for him," Corbin said, "because I know how hard he's been working all year to try and get himself into shape to play and get his body back to where he wants to be, so he can perform at the level he's used to performing."

Though his luck has been bad, Okur's work ethic has impressed the Jazz.

"I know that he's worked his butt off to try and get back. He just hasn't had the response that he was looking forward to," Corbin added. "It's the best thing for him (to shut it down). We will miss him. We love having him around, and he'll continue to work and be ready for next year."

General manager Kevin O'Connor said Okur, who only appeared in 13 games this season, could possibly return if the Jazz make the playoffs.

LIMITED ACTION: Harris didn't see playing time in the fourth quarter Wednesday — and only played 26 minutes overall — for a couple of reasons: 1. His right hamstring was "getting tight after halftime," he said; and 2. His team and backup were playing well.

"The way the game was going, the way Earl (Watson) was playing, I told (coach) just let him play it out," Harris said. He added that he hopes to get the hamstring "as close to 100 percent for Houston as I can."

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