Paul Millsap smiled.
Asked how strange it felt to be on the bench during the fourth quarter of Monday night’s dramatic 105-103 win over Denver, the veteran forward said, “It wasn’t strange. It was the second time.”
Yes, it was.
In the Jazz’s last two close games — a 104-102 win over Sacramento on Friday and their come-from-behind victory over the Nuggets — Millsap has not played down the stretch.
He played 19 minutes, 42 seconds against the Kings, the only time in 15 games he has played less than 20 minutes this season.
He played 23:39 against the Nuggets, but none after being replaced by Derrick Favors with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
“It kind of caught me by surprise a little bit,” Millsap said. “But, I mean, it worked.
“And you can’t really complain if something works. … My role is to be a team player, and that’s what I am.”
In the victories over the Kings and Nuggets, Millsap’s numbers reflect his reduced minutes. He finished with a total of 15 points, six rebounds and two assists. He made six of his 14 field-goal attempts.
“You are going to go through some tough stretches,” Millsap said. “You have to continue to think positive. You have to continue to press through it. It’s nothing I haven’t been through before. It’s just one of those obstacles you have to overcome.”
As the Jazz start a three-game road trip in New Orleans on Wednesday night, coach Tyrone Corbin doesn’t seem worried about Millsap’s reaction to the situation.
“Paul has been a pro the whole time he’s been here,” he said. “He knows how to respond to it.”
Against Denver, Corbin explained, he simply stuck with a hot hand. That meant keeping Millsap, along with fellow starters Marvin Williams and Randy Foye, on the bench in the fourth quarter.
“We were going good, and so I decided to stay with it,” Corbin said. “[Millsap] didn’t do anything wrong. I just decided to stay where we were.”
Even with normal minutes, however, Millsap’s recent production has dropped.
He averages 7.3 points on 16-for-47 shooting in the last six games. That’s 34 percent.
“He’ll work his way out of it,” Corbin said. “ He’ll continue to come in and work and work and work until he figures it out.
“You know, it’s a long season. You’d like to play 82 games at your best, but it’s difficult to do. You just have to work your way through it, and I’m sure Paul will.”
Millsap’s teammates are confident he will return to top form. They downplay the idea that hard feelings over Corbin’s end-of-game rotation might be boiling.
“Paul is a veteran, and this is a deep team,” Mo Williams said. “You [media] guys have to understand that. I don’t think there’s any controversy about it. We’re just showing depth. We’re showing how the young guys are growing.”
Marvin Williams, who joined Millsap on the bench in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets, agrees.
“Any time two or three starters are sitting with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, it’s definitely a big testament to our team,” he said.
Meanwhile, Millsap plans to “just be a team player, man. That’s what it’s all about.”
A closer look
Paul Millsap’s numbers in the past three games:
Opponent Min. FGs 3s FTs Reb Ast Pts Result
Denver 23:39 2-5 0-0 1-3 5 1 5 W, 105-103
Sacramento 35:29 4-11 0-1 5-6 8 3 13 L, 108-97
Sacramento 19:42 4-9 0-0 2-3 1 1 10 W, 104-102
Jazz at Hornets
P At New Orleans Arena
Tipoff • 6 p.m. MST
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 8-7; Hornets 4-9
Season series • Hornets lead 1-0
Last meeting • Hornets 88, Jazz 86 (Nov. 2)
About the Jazz • They have lost three straight in New Orleans, going back to last season. … They are 2-3 in games decided by six points or less. … C Al Jefferson has scored double figures in 14 of 15 games. … G Mo Williams (foot) and F DeMarre Carroll (shoulder) will be game-time decisions.
About the Hornets • They come off a 105-98 win over the Clippers in Los Angeles. … F Ryan Anderson averages 17.7 points per game. … In their last three games, G Greivis Vasquez averages 15.3 points on 21-of-34 shooting. … C Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick in the draft, won’t play (ankle).
Jazz at Hornets
P Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT