NEW ORLEANS — Paul Millsap wasn't on the court when the Utah Jazz held off the Denver Nuggets in a frenetic finish Monday night. In fact, the veteran power forward remained on the bench the entire fourth quarter of the Jazz's come-from-behind 105-103 victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
That was a déjà-vu scenario for Millsap.
The starter-turned-supporter went through the same experience in Utah's home win over Sacramento last Friday night.
Fourth quarter. No Millsap. Comeback win.
"It kind of caught me (by) surprise a little bit, but it worked. You can't really complain when something works," Millsap said, noting the Jazz won both games while he watched Derrick Favors play his usual minutes. "My role is just be a leader on the court, be a team player, and that's what I am. (I'm) just being a supporter and try to help coach the younger guys."
Not by coincidence, the team player was on the court well before the team's 10 a.m. practice started Tuesday morning.
His coach noticed, too.
The fact Millsap is in a funk.
Since averaging 23.5 points in a blistering four-game stretch a couple of weeks ago, Millsap has struggled. In his past five games, the 6-8 player is only averaging 8.8 points on 34-percent shooting. Utah's second-leading scorer had just five points Monday in 24 minutes.
More noticeable than his errant shooting has been the two games in which Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin entrusted Favors down the stretch instead of Millsap.
Whether it's a sign of things to come or a repeated fluke remains to be seen. But Corbin remains confident in Millsap.
"He'll work his way out of it. He'll continue to come in and work and work and work until he figures it out," said Corbin, whose team takes on the New Orleans Hornets tonight. "The season's a long season. You'd like to play 82 games your best, but it's difficult to do. You've just got to work your way through it and I'm sure Paul will."
That's why Millsap took in extra practice, working on his post moves and sweating it up with assistant player development coach Johnnie Bryant while Corbin watched and talked to reporters.
"You're going to go through some tough stretches," Millsap admitted. "You've got to continue to stay positive, continue to press through it. Nothing I haven't seen, haven't been through before. It's just one of those obstacles you’ve got to climb."
Though Millsap was caught off guard by multiple crunch-time cheerleader roles, the predicament was bound to happen this season. The Jazz have depth, and some nights you're as off as you were on the previous game.
No doubt, it will happen again to Millsap or Al Jefferson.
With four bigs available at his beckon call — and each capable of doing different things — every game resembles a multiple-choice quiz for Corbin. At times, he's used the Big Three lineup to combine the forces of Favors, Big Al and Millsap. On Monday night, the scrappy DeMarre Carroll played the entire fourth quarter instead of Millsap and starting small forward Marvin Williams.
It's anyone's guess what will happen tonight or on this three-game road trip.
Though Millsap certainly would prefer to be the selected answer, the results have been positive in these particular circumstances when he wasn’t. Corbin, however, is quick to point out that the longest-tenured Jazz player has helped Utah ace more tests than not.
"Paul's been a true pro the whole time he's been here. He knows how to respond to it," Corbin said. "It's just the way the game went (Monday) night. It was going good so I decided to go with it. He didn't do anything wrong. I just decided to stay the way we were."
What might've seemed a slight to Millsap was a definite vote of confidence for Favors, the Jazz's third-year big man whose potential is starting to take shape.
"He just disrupts so much on the defensive end," Corbin said of the lengthy 6-10 Favors. "And offensively, he's learning how to cut and dive to the basket and be available on the weak side when we run the pick-and-roll or post Al on the strong side."
Point guard Mo Williams, a tri-captain with Millsap and Big Al, pointed out that this is a testament to the Jazz's depth. He believes it's important that the team stays together and that players trust the coaching staff to make the right decisions. Millsap also called it an "in-house" situation.
"I don't think it's anything to start any controversy about. I think we're just showing depth," Williams said. "We're showing how the young guys are growing. Paul's a veteran. I don't see it as a struggle. I don’t see it as a demotion. I see it as it's a team sport."
Williams, who hopes to play tonight after missing the past two games with a foot injury, said he'd take the same attitude if Jamaal Tinsley or Earl Watson had the hot hand and stayed on the court instead of him.
And he's hardly worried about Millsap's so-called slump.
"Obviously, we're going to need him. It's no secret," Williams said. "I'm not really concerned about Paul at all."
The Jazz do know Millsap well. He's the type who punches the clock early and will stay late to work the kinks out.
"There were a few games where I felt like I pressed it a little bit. You want to get yourself out of your slump a little bit so you want to continue to press it, force the issue," Millsap said. "But right now, I've just got to let the game come to me and continue to feed off my teammates. I have no complaints."
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