The first time the Jazz played Golden State this week, a 117-96 Utah victory Tuesday in Oakland, starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko had 10 rebounds, nine points, eight assists, five blocks and a steal.
That's one point and two assists shy of a triple-double, four steals short of one of Kirilenko's trademark 5-by-5 games.
The so-called "old Andrei?" Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was asked two mornings later.
"Well, Andrei's worked real hard, you know. I think he's probably in better shape than he's ever been in the last few years that he's been here. His conditioning is good, his strength was good," Sloan said. "He played hard. He did a lot of wonderful things for our team, and, if anything, he probably did more things because of the things he did blocked shots, passed the basketball.
"Everybody always looks at the numbers of scoring, and I think players do to a point," added Sloan, whose Jazz face the Warriors in a rematch tonight at EnergySolutions Arena. "But I think he was very, very effective with our team. Now, we'd still like him to be able to score too because I think that's what makes every player happy, it seems like. And that's our job, to try to do that."
Sloan, recall, is under orders from Jazz owner Larry H. Miller to give Kirilenko who asked for a trade in the offseason, and suggested he no longer wanted to play for a Sloan-coached club more positive feedback than he has in the past.
And in that same 2007-08 NBA regular season-opening game against Golden State, Kirilenko whose shot-making woes are well-chronicled, so much so the Jazz recently were moved to assign part-time coach Jeff Hornacek to work almost exclusively with him made just 3-of-10 shots from the field.
Among his misses: a 19-foot jumper early in the second quarter, a 21-foot jumper in the same period's final two minutes and an 18-foot jumper that came late in the fourth quarter and with the win well in hand.
The makes: one layup and two dunks, all putbacks.
With that as context, and as part of what might be a never-ending quest to fully understand the curious relationship between the two, Sloan was asked by way of follow-up if he could live with a few bad shots from Kirilenko so long as he got all of the rest that the 2004 All-Star does so well.
After hemming and hawing a bit, Sloan offered this response: "Sometimes we're a little bit critical, and probably a little bit too critical," he said. "But what's a bad shot, you know?"
Rather than dub it the ill-advised sort that typically makes him cringe and cuss, Sloan continued with his own definition.
"One you miss," he said. "So, everybody takes a bad shot because they don't always make them.
"I think the biggest thing, sometimes, (is) he puts a little bit more pressure on himself to try to make shots at times. And when he lets the game come to him which, most of the time, he does that he seems to be very effective.
"And, you know, he's worked on the mechanics," Sloan added. "Jeff (Hornacek) has worked with him. It's something that every player has to work at himself. We can't change that. He has to change a little bit himself. And he's trying to do that. That's all you can ask any player to do."
That established, however, the realist in Sloan could not help but concede a point about what he called "tough shots that we have no chance to rebound."
"Those are things (that) always concern me, because you don't have a chance to rebound, and they do get it, then it's usually an easy opportunity for the other team on the other end of the floor," Sloan said. "And that's my huge concern that we want to give ourselves every opportunity to be able to defend, and I think what goes along with that is good shot selection."
The queries did not end there.
Sloan then was asked if Kirilenko's mechanics look better than last season. The response:
"Well, he's playing much better than what he did," the Jazz coach said. "I think he's a lot more energized, he's a lot more active I mean, to block shots and run the floor and do the things he did in the game (Tuesday) night, and get his hands on the basketball a tremendous number of times ....
"I'm not going to count every game by the number of points he scores. I mean, if that's gonna be a case then we may as well quit talking about it now because he doesn't have to score points.
"We'd like for him to get opportunities to get points. I'd like to see him get 20 points and have all the other things happen as well," Sloan added. "But that's not going to happen every night, with the way our team is and hopefully our other players understand that as well, because we need what he's able to do and give us to help us win. And with that, hopefully, goes some points for him too."
Sloan was not alone in being questioned about the seemingly sensitive subject.
While Kirilenko shied on the subject of "old Andrei" that same morning "I will try to play basketball," he said. "You know, I don't want to talk about that right now. I'm probably just happy on the floor" point guard and co-captain Deron Williams was willing to address the issue of whether or not the Jazz could live with some of Kirilenko's ill-advised shots as long as he did all the rest. "We definitely can," Williams said. "I mean, he's been working on his shot. Jeff (Hornacek) has been working with him. So, it's gonna come.
"As far as ill-advised you know, I mean, everybody takes a bad shot at times. We just have to make sure they're not at crucial points in the game, and make sure we execute for the most part. I think he's doing a good job of staying within the offense, and looking for his offense within the offense. You know, everybody takes a couple bad shots here and there."
Flash forward several hours later.
In their second game of the season, Thursday night's 106-95 loss to Houston, Kirilenko who averaged 16.5 points per game during his All-Star season, but just 8.3 in a reduced offensive role behind Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur last season takes just five shots from the field.
He makes only one, a close-range runner.
Among the misses: a 21-foot jumper in the game's opening minute that was taken with 14 seconds remaining on the shot clock, and an errant 19-footer that came 14 seconds after 47-point scorer Tracy McGrady of the Rockets drilled a 25-foot 3-pointer to put Houston up by 10 points with about 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
As for the so-called 'other stuff,' Kirilenko finished with six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and no steals.
Sloan's postgame response?"I've got to do something to get Andrei some more shots in the ballgame," the Jazz coach said. "To come away with five shots in the game that's not enough."
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