SALT LAKE CITY — It was an interesting day for Josh Howard.
First, on Monday afternoon, the Utah Jazz reserve forward got punished to the tune of a $25,000 fine for his flagrant foul in last Saturday's game against San Antonio.
Then the nine-year NBA veteran went out and punished the New Orleans Hornets a little bit in Utah's 94-90 victory on Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Howard, who had 18 points and seven rebounds in Utah's loss to the Spurs, followed that up with a solid 13-point performance against New Orleans as the Jazz improved their early season record to 2-3.
"I'm coming around as far as my legs go," said Howard, a former All-Star with the Dallas Mavericks who was a free agent before signing with the Jazz on Dec. 15. "Our defense was good in the fourth quarter. Ultimately at the end of the day, you've got to have defense to win games. The offense will come eventually, but the main focus right now is defense.
"I don't know my role right now, you know, I just go out there and play and try to be a veteran leader. That is my role, as far as myself defining it, but for the most part the team is trying to focus on defense, and we played great defensively over the last six minutes, and that was the main thing."
Howard hit a big jump shot midway through the fourth quarter to tie the score at 80, and his two free throws with 3:48 remaining gave Utah an 85-84 edge and put the Jazz ahead for good.
Then with little more than a minute remaining and the Jazz clinging to a precarious three-point lead at 89-86, Howard came up with a huge offensive rebound that allowed Utah to run more precious time off the clock before Devin Harris hit Paul Millsap flashing down the lane for a slam dunk that made it 91-86 with under a minute to go.
"Oh, yeah, I snuck in there," Howard said of grabbing a critical carom off the offensive glass. "I had to get my young Wake Forest alum (Al-Farouq Aminu) away from the ball. That was a big possession."
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has certainly noticed Howard's contributions and says the cagey 31-year-old forward could be in line for additional playing time.
"He's getting in better shape, man, and he knows how to play," Corbin said.
"I love his approach to the game and he's going to continue to get better as he gets in better shape.
"If he continues to work and learn what we want to do and be effective for us, right now he's a tough matchup for teams. He does a good job of putting pressure on other teams and getting stops. He wants to be in there and he's doing a lot of extra stuff still to get in the game. There's a lot of upside to what he's doing."
Harris hit 7-of-8 free throws, and his ability to get to the foul line certainly wasn't lost on Corbin.
"He knows how to get to the foul line," the Jazz coach said. "He picks a spot to get to the basket, he can finish after contact and he's a good free-throw shooter."
Howard's ability to slash to the basket and draw fouls is something he prides himself in.
"It's important," he said. "A lot of people forget about that, that's a lost art. I've always tried to get to the line at least three times every game. Getting to the line is big.
"The key is to be aggressive, just be aggressive. A lot of guys don't expect you to come at them, but being a defensive-minded guy, I'm always expecting people to come at me. It's an important part of the game as far as getting points, and the clock stops as well."