The Jazz can assure themselves tonight of making the playoffs, and they want Kelly Tripucka with them in the postseason. Tripucka plans to make a comeback when the Jazz play Phoenix in the Salt Palace.
"I think I'll give it a shot," Tripucka said after Monday's practice. "It's definitely the best it's felt, and I think it might be good enough this time to try it."He's said that before.
Out since Feb. 10 with a nagging calf injury, Tripucka planned to return for a March 4 game at Seattle. But he aggravated the muscle tear while running after practice the day before. Later, he had another setback while running on a treadmill.
No wonder Tripucka was a little worried Monday. "I was really nervous when I woke up, because I knew I was going to give it a try and I'm not a nervous person," he said. "You're just afraid, after the other two times. I'm just trying to block it out."
He practiced at about three-quarter speed, having already received the go-ahead from the Jazz medical staff. "We've left it up to him . . . as soon as he feels comfortable," trainer Don Sparks said.
A Jazz win tonight would clinch at least eight place in the Western Conference ahead of Phoenix, for the Jazz's fifth straight playoff berth.
Tripucka has missed 19 games, right after starting 21 games in a row and generally playing the best basketball of his two years with the Jazz. Darrell Griffith replaced him initially, and enjoyed his best stretch in two seasons.
When Griffith was sidelined by a knee injury that will likely require surgery, Bobby Hansen stepped in and had the best two weeks of his career, winning an NBA player of the week award.
Lately, Rickey Green has worked effectively as a backup off-guard, showing his most life of this season. At times, even rookies Bart Kofoed and Scott Roth have provided decent minutes at the position.
Admits Layden, "We're doing all right without him, right?"
But especially if Griffith stays out, the Jazz need Tripucka for the playoffs. By returning now, he should have a chance to work his way back into shape and into the rotation by the end of the regular season, with 17 games left.
"The important thing is for him to be ready at the end of the season," Layden said.
Green, meanwhile, played a season-high 34 minutes Saturday at San Antonio and, while he made only 6 of 17 shots, scored in double figures for the fifth straight game. Limited to a few minutes here and there at point guard behind NBA assists leader John Stockton, Green seemed rejuvenated last week.
"When you're not getting any time, you don't feel like you're contributing," he noted. "I'm just trying to play hard and have some fun, and it's a much better feeling. I still like to play, and I think any player wants to play, regardless of the situation."
Teamed with Stockton, Green's had success getting out on the break and being on the other end of the passes. The Jazz had four games and three teams Denver, Dallas and San Antonio whose three-guard rotations offered decent matchups for the Jazz, even with Green and Stockton 6-foot-1 and shorter.
"I guess we'll continue to do it when we can," Layden said. "There are some teams we can't do it against."
That's where Tripucka comes in. And tonight, K.T. comes back he hopes.