As they enjoyed the aftermath of a second straight 22-point victory — this one over a shorthanded Phoenix Suns team missing starters Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Shawn Marion — Mehmet Okur's Jazz teammates could not help but gush over the big Turk's 22-point, 17-rebound performance.

"Hopefully that will continue," point guard Deron Williams said after Okur pulled down seven more boards than he has in any other game this season.

"It was fun to watch him play like that," power forward Carlos Boozer said. "When he plays like that, we're virtually unstoppable."

It was vintage Okur, circa pre-2007 NBA All-Star Game.

He knocked down a trio of 3-pointers, hallmark of the long distance-shooting center's game.

He dared to venture inside, using Suns big man Amare Stoudemire as a personal prop to make many wonder why he isn't willing to do so more often.

He pulled down 12 defensive boards, and five on the offensive end, finishing just a rebound shy of matching his career high and posting only his second double-double this season.

"When we get that kind of production out of him," Boozer said. "We're pretty ... good."

Okur doesn't deny it.

Nor does he, much like Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, feel such play is the sole missing link separating last season's NBA Western Conference finalists from this season's rather mediocre 20-17 Jazz team.

"Not just me," Okur said as the Jazz prepared Friday to play burgeoning All-Star center Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic tonight.

"He's not the only guy we have to have," Sloan added. "It's not a one-man team."

Still, there's no denying that the Jazz looked much more Thursday like a fully represented five-man club than they have when Okur has struggled previously.

There's also no denying that his production problems of late may stem at least partly from a seven-game, two-week layoff prompted by a strained left shoulder muscle.

"He's just now getting his legs back because of not playing," Williams said.

"Yeah, I'm feeling a lot better now," said Okur, who missed only two games over his first three seasons in Utah. "Feeling healthy really means something to me, because if you look at my career, I never miss that much games ... and all of a sudden I'm like, 'What's going on?' "

Before the injury, Okur averaged 12.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.

In his seven post-return games prior to Thursday, those numbers had dipped — albeit just a bit, to 11.0 and 4.9.

Yet in all, even with Thursday's high numbers, Okur's 2007-08 averages of 12.3 points and 5.4 rebounds are down drastically from 17.6 and 7.2 a season ago.

So it's got to be more than just the sore shoulder.

Indeed, Okur no longer is Utah's leading scorer, like two seasons ago. Not even No. 2, as he was behind Boozer last season. Rather, he's down to No. 4 — surpassed not only by Boozer, but also Williams and first-year full-time starter Ronnie Brewer, too.

It's a reality with which Okur doesn't quarrel, as he's humbly suggested several times this season that he's OK knowing his points simply aren't needed as much as they once were.

Yet that's also a perception which Sloan, for one, seems to wish Okur would shake.

So the Jazz coach suggested even Okur sat out for the stretch he did.

"He's still got to look for shots and be ready to play the game," the Jazz coach said when addressing last month Okur's apparent acceptance that he had slipped in the pecking order of Jazz scoring options. "I mean, if you just sit out there and say, 'OK, I'm gonna sit on 3-point shots when the ball comes back out,' then that's one of the things that causes ... our team more problems."

Sloan furthermore pinpointed a potential cause for Okur's reduced offensive numbers.

"Some of it has to do with (the fact) a lot of teams are switching off on him, sending smaller guys to guard him so they can stay up on him," Sloan added then. "That's when he has to make the decision to go to the basket. You can't always stay out on the floor and look to shoot over the top of people."

Such has been the case, in fact, since shortly after Okur was showcased as a first-time NBA All-Star Game participant last season.

Opponents not only began to pay him more attention, but also started to figure him out.

"He helped us win a lot of games (early last season)," Sloan said, "because he shot the ball, and most of the guys that were guarding him were big guys, so he was able to take them outside.

"When they defend you differently, sometimes you've got to work a little harder to take advantage of that. If they switch a small guy on you, I wouldn't think it's a good idea to take 3-point shots. My next move would be to try to get it inside and punish the guy that's smaller than I am."

Sloan also wants Okur to establish himself inside early, then head to his personal comfort zone of the trey-try line.

"I never felt like he wasn't trying to do whatever it took to try to win," the Jazz coach said Friday.

"I've always said, you get a couple of baskets inside and (then) you look outside and take that first outside shot," Sloan said. "That helps you get ready to go and gives you a little confidence."

Okur, who isn't averse to the suggestion, did just that against Stoudemire.

And he vows to attempt to keep the same in mind as the season progresses, so that there are more occasions for Williams and Boozer to burble like they did Thursday.

"At least I'm gonna try," Okur said when asked about repeating his effort against Phoenix.

"Maybe not every night, but I'm gonna try (to) do it, every night, you know, the same way," he said. "If not, at least double-double. That's what we're looking for right now."


Declining dollar

A look at the recent season averages for Jazz center Mehmet Okur, aka "Money":

Season . . . Points. . . Rebounds

2005-06 . . . . 18.0 . . . . 9.1

2006-07 . . . . 17.6 . . . . 7.2

2007-08 . . . . 12.3 . . . . 5.4


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