MINNEAPOLIS — To the Utah Jazz's benefit, they faced the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night without the reigning Western Conference player of the week.
Instead of battling in the paint with the T-Wolves' beastly big man Nikola Pekovic, Jazz center Al Jefferson was mostly matched against an old sparring partner.
That might be the case again tonight, seeing as the 6-11, 291-pounder is a game-time decision because of his left calf contusion.
Going against unheralded NBA journeyman Greg Stiemsma certainly helped Jefferson have his way against Minnesota in perhaps his greatest game as a Jazzman.
Big Al tied his career-high in scoring with 40 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out a season-best six assists while leading Utah to the physical 107-100 win at EnergySolutions Arena.
"(Jefferson) made some tough shots, and that's what he does," said Stiemsma, a 6-11 center who played for Boston last year before joining Minnesota this season.
"He's one of the best in the league in getting those jumpers off and jump hooks off. He was just on (Friday)."
Jefferson liked the way the T-Wolves defended him at first.
"No disrespect to them," he said, "but I felt like I had the advantage on the block because they was playing me one-on-one."
Eventually, Minnesota started trapping him during his 19-point third quarter, but ex-T-Wolves guard Randy Foye made the Jazz opponent pay by hitting a bunch of outside shots (5-for-7 from 3-point range).
"It was a challenge," Stiemsma said about guarding Jefferson. "(He) was up here (in Minnesota) a few years ago and I worked out with him after the summer, so I kind of knew what to expect. He's a load, a big guy and skilled."
Big Al smiled when talking about his match-up with Stiemsma.
"He went up for a couple of ball fakes," Jefferson said. "I was like, 'You should know better of all people.' He said, 'It looked like you were really going to shoot it.'"
Jefferson thought Stiemsma's vision failed him another time.
Big Al chuckled when told by a Minnesota reporter that the T-Wolves' center said he double-dribbled on the shot-clock beating basket with 39 seconds remaining. Jefferson lost control of the ball before grabbing it and flinging it in give Utah a three-point lead.
"Double dribble? Nah, nah. Of course he would stay that," Jefferson said, laughing. "I'm going to teach him that trick this summer."
With Utah's playoff hopes at stake, the Jazz only hope they get another Friday-like performance from Jefferson tonight at Target Center.
The T-Wolves, meanwhile, gained confidence by keeping it so close.
"I think we were in the game the whole time," Stiemsma said. "Obviously, Al got hot, so hopefully we don't let him have his way in the next one."
KOBE'S INJURY: Jazz players and coaches expressed their sympathies for Kobe Bryant after the Lakers' superstar tore his Achilles tendon in Friday night's win over Golden State.
"I watched some of the game and saw when he went down," said Corbin. "Memo (Mehmet Okur) had that over in Denver first game of the playoffs. It's a tough injury you never know when it's going to happen. It's unfortunate for them, it's unfortunate for him. You never want to see anybody get hurt and you feel for him."
"I saw when it happened," said Randy Foye. "It's tough, you never want to see anyone get injured. I know were in a battle with those guys. He's such a competitor and works so hard, but you never want to see anyone get hurt, let alone an Achilles injury. That's just tough."
"At the end of the day, we're all a big NBA family," said Al Jefferson. "It's tough to see one of the best NBA players go down with that type of injury. All we can do is pray for him and hope he has a speedy recovery."
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz are 3-0 against the Timberwolves this year, having won 106-84 in January, 97-93 on the road in February and the win on Friday night . . . The T-Wolves are without their star, Kevin Love, who missed most of the season with two broken hands and had knee surgery last week . . . Jerel McNeal, the 6-3 guard from Marquette, who signed a contract for the remainder of the season, has yet to play a minute for the Jazz in the two weeks he's been with the team.
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