SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz have been fortunate for the most part in terms of avoiding the injury bug this season.
But two ailing starters — Al Jefferson (ankle) and Raja Bell (adductor) — will miss tonight's game against the Portland Trail Blazers (7 p.m. MT, ROOT).
With the two veterans out, the Jazz will go with a starting lineup that includes point guard Devin Harris, shooting guard Gordon Hayward, small forward Josh Howard, power forward Paul Millsap and center Derrick Favors.
This will be Howard's first start in a Jazz uniform.
"We'll move some pieces around and see how it develops," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said in his pregame interview.
Jefferson held out hope that his tendinitis-hampered right ankle would feel better by this evening, but it didn't progress enough to play.
Bell, suffering a strained right adductor (groin), ruled himself out after giving it a quick go at this morning's shootaround.
"It wasn't ready to go. It was still grabbing me," the 35-year-old Bell said. "I won't play tonight. … (It) makes no sense to go out there and rip it up."
Bell has started in all 18 games for the 11-7 Jazz, and he said his sore knee and sore back "feel fine." As for Big Al, the eight-year veteran was noticeably limping while slowly walking outside of the locker room this morning.
Jefferson, who's missed two games with ankle issues, confirmed that he'd played through pain Saturday. He received a shot that night to help him deal with the ongoing aggravation in his ankle.
"It felt like I was running on glass," Jefferson said. "I got through, but it was bothering me. That's why they decided to give me the shot right after."
Jefferson received a similar pain-killing shot earlier this season and said his ankle felt "brand new" once the medicine kicked in.
In the meantime, though, he said the shot has a painful after-effect for a day or so before the soreness subsides.
"It's feeling better and better," Jefferson said.
It's a big game for the Jazz, who had Sunday off following Saturday's 96-93 win over Jimmer Fredette and the Sacramento Kings.
Not only are the Jazz playing a division rival in Portland (12-8), but Utah is also approaching the rough portion of its schedule.
The Jazz have three of four games at home this week. But from Feb. 6 through April 2, they'll be on the road for 22 of their 32 next contests.
Tonight's game features some intriguing subplots, including the power forward battle between All-Star hopefuls Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge as well as the return of former Jazz guard Wesley Matthews. Portland has beaten the Jazz three times in a row.
Corbin said he's emphasized the importance of "having everybody ready" to his players since training camp began because of the nature of this squeezed 66-game schedule.
"Everybody's going to go through it with this compressed season," he said, "so many games guys are going to get hurt and you've got to have everybody else step up."
On Saturday, swingman C.J. Miles began the third quarter with the starters after Bell hobbled out of the game with a groin injury in the second quarter.
Corbin hopes Howard can rediscover the offensive spark he had before missing four games with a strained left quad.
"It's unfortunate he got hurt. I thought he was coming along really well before he got hurt," Corbin said. "He was really getting used to things. We were starting to expand some of the calls with him in the game. He missed some time and now his timing's off again."
But Corbin liked how Howard, who really struggled in his first two games back, was more patient in Saturday's win.
"Tonight I think he'll relax a little more. He's a veteran guy. He knows how to pace himself a little bit," Corbin said. "He's going to be on the floor a little bit more tonight, so there's not as much a sense of urgency. We need him to have a big game for us."
This will be Favors' third start at center in place of Jefferson, who missed last Wednesday's double-overtime loss to Toronto and a Dec. 30 win against Philadelphia.
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