Condensed schedule, injuries force Utah Jazz to fiddle with lineup

Published: Saturday, April 7 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

From left to right, Utah Jazz's Earl Watson, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap sit on the bench in the final minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 116-101.  (Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press) From left to right, Utah Jazz's Earl Watson, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap sit on the bench in the final minutes of the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 116-101. (Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — They're 56 games into a condensed 66-game regular season, and yet the Utah Jazz are still forced to fiddle with their daily lineup due to player injuries, illnesses and opposing teams' lineups.

Friday's game against Golden State was a prime example. Not only were Raja Bell and Josh Howard still sidelined by leg injuries, but starting point guard Devin Harris was nursing an ailing ankle, power forward Paul Millsap was battling a stomach virus and shooting guard C.J. Miles started feeling nauseous just before tipoff.

Then, with 41/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter, starting center Al Jefferson, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a strained abdominal muscle while reaching for a rebound.

And, of course, the Warriors' up-tempo style forced Utah coach Tyrone Corbin — who tried playing big men Millsap (small forward), Derrick Favors (power forward) and Jefferson (center) together on the front line for a short time — to eventually go with a smaller lineup, putting two point guards on the court at the same time for much of the second half.

"I think it was good," Corbin said. "We had a moment there or two where we went big with Paul, Derrick and Al (and also Enes Kanter) for a little bit. We were a little too slow, I thought then, and they were able to exploit us a little bit.

"The guards came in and did a good job. We have a chance to go both ways. We'll just continue to see what gives us the best chance for different matchups.

"I think we're getting to the point we can try and make other teams make adjustments," Corbin continued. "We make the subs first and see if they can adjust to us, because it speeds the game up for us. It gives us another good passer on the floor. We can go and exploit even with Paul at the three, his size advantage on different guys (in his position). We'll see how it develops."

SCOREBOARD WATCHING: Asked about his reaction to seeing the Houston Rockets, one of the teams the Jazz are chasing in the Western Conference playoff race, go on the road and beat the L.A. Lakers late Friday night, Corbin admitted, "I wish they would've lost.

"You've just got to keep handling your business, man. We have to just keep winning as many games as we can and not wishing that anybody else lose. We just have to make sure we do what we can to stay on pace."

Miles admitted to feeling some frustration when he learned of the Rockets' surprising road win as well.

"(Lakers center) Andrew Bynum got kicked out of the game," he groaned. "We can't depend on nobody else; we've got to do what we've got to do, we can't be in the situation where we're hoping for other teams to lose. If we win games, as many games as possible, we put ourselves in a better position.

"We've got to make sure we do what we need to do, and whatever happens, we can't worry about it. Of course, it could help or hurt us but the biggest thing is we need to help ourselves first."

THE ROOKIE WALL: The production from Kanter, Utah's rookie center and No. 1 draft pick last June, has tailed off somewhat over the last month. Observers can't help but wonder if the 19-year-old kid from Turkey hasn't hit the proverbial rookie wall in which mental fatigue and physical exhaustion take their toll on young players who are not accustomed to playing so many games over such a long season.

"I don't know," Corbin said. "He has moments. It's tough. It's a lot thrown at him in a short amount of time. He sat out all of last year (at the University of Kentucky). He had the summer where he played with the national team and then he came in here into the season. It's been so much stuff for a young guy to gather and try and pick and choose what he can use and what he needs to move on from.

"He's done a good job. He's continuing to work. It's a lot of stuff. I understand where he is. I don't think he's hit a wall. I just think that he'll have peaks and valleys, and he may be in a little steady valley right now."

SICK LIST: Millsap sat out Saturday's practice but is expected to play in tonight's key road game against San Antonio.

"I think we're OK," Corbin said. "Everybody's a little nicked up now. Paul has a little virus thing going on. C.J. got sick just before the game. Hopefully that stuff's just 24-hour and short term more than long term and doesn't go through the team. Usually when you get two guys like that, it's some kind of bug that's lingering around, so hopefully we can get that out of the way here before we get on that plane (to go to Texas)."

Harris, who scored a season-high 28 points in Friday's win and hit five 3-pointers to match his career high, said his ankle was still "a little sore. It's manageable. I try not to go side to side too much, try to go north and south."

TEXAS TWO-STEP: With back-to-back games against the Spurs tonight at San Antonio and Monday back in Salt Lake City, the schedule-makers certainly haven't done the Jazz any favors — especially since the surging Spurs entered Saturday with the best record in the West.

Miles said he was fired up about this daunting task.

"It shows you what you're made of … how bad you want it, that's pretty much what it's about," he said. "We're gonna go in there and try to win a basketball game, and that's what they're trying to do, too. We want to get in the playoffs, and to get in the playoffs we have to win, so our backs are to the wall.

"I don't look at it as pressure; I look at it as this is when it's the most fun. This is when you get to show how bad you want it, and what your team is made of and what the players are made of. This is when dudes earn their respect and really show how they can lock down and how good we can be."

Contributing: Jody Genessy

email: rhollis@desnews.com


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