With the second game of a back-to-back set tonight in Houston, followed by games against Cleveland, Denver and San Antonio to open the second half of their season, the Jazz could have used an easy night Tuesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
They appeared on their way, jumping out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, restoring a 14-point lead in the third, but the Jazz had to go the distance to push past the Timberwolves 112-107, with Mehmet Okur hitting two three-pointers in the last three minutes.
Instead of finishing off Minnesota early and buying some rest heading into the back-to-back, the Jazz had to play their starters until the final horn. They also lost Andrei Kirilenko to an ankle injury in the second quarter, with Kirilenko saying afterward he won't play tonight.
"We had a lead early," Deron Williams said, "wished we could have pushed that a little farther and put the game away early, especially with them coming off a back-to-back, but it didn't happen that way."
Asked if the Jazz might be kicking themselves by the time they got to Houston, Williams said: "I'm sure we will tomorrow, but it's part of the NBA. You've got back-to-backs, you've got tough travel conditions, but we'll be all right."
Paul Millsap cast aside his four-point, three-rebound effort in Saturday's loss to Dallas by leading the Jazz with 28 points and 15 rebounds. Williams said Millsap "put us on his back" despite playing with two injured knees.
As part of his night, Millsap ran the floor for a three-point play, knocked down an 18-footer, hit a spinning, driving layup on Kevin Love, scored seven points as part of the Jazz's 11-6 run to open the second half and glared at Love after a fourth-quarter dunk.
"I just wanted to step up because of A.K," said Millsap, who had nine offensive rebounds and three assists. "I felt like I didn't play to my best in Dallas and that's the reason why we lost. I wanted to come today, spark a little energy and continue to do what I've been doing."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan credited a pool workout Millsap went through with trainer Gary Briggs after returning from last week's three-game trip.
"He said he felt terrific," Sloan said. "He ran good yesterday in practice. It's unbelieveable the way he's come around. You just can't say enough about hard work and determination to make yourself better."
The Timberwolves, who came in with a deceiving 13-26 record considering they had won seven of their last eight games, trailed the entire night but nearly made a stunning fourth-quarter comeback down 97-89 with 5:52 to play.
After Al Jefferson hit a hook shot, Randy Foye stole a Millsap pass and went in for a dunk, then connected on a three-pointer to make it 97-96. Sloan signaled to Williams to bring the ball across midcourt and call timeout but chaos ensued.
Williams tried to catch the defense sleeping -- "They weren't paying attention, so I was going to get a layup," he said -- and went behind his back before charging into Sebastian Telfair. Sloan, meanwhile, erupted that he had called timeout before the offensive foul.
The Timberwolves had three chances to take the lead, but watched Jefferson come up empty on three shots. Okur (22 points) hit one three-pointer off a pick-and-pop play with Williams with 2:43 remaining, then hit another three-pointer 46 seconds later.
"It was vintage Memo," Williams said. "We've seen it before, we'll see it again."
Williams finished with 17 points and 11 assists but struggled in shooting 4 of 14. Even as the Jazz went up 106-96 on his 20-footer with 58.7 seconds left, Williams motioned at referee Bennie Adams that he'd been hit on the arm and was called for a technical.
The Jazz won their seventh consecutive game at EnergySolutions Arena and opened the second half with a division victory. Sloan noted how much Minnesota had improved playing with Kevin McHale as coach but saved some praise for his own team.
"They got within one point of us," Sloan said, "and we could have folded our tents and said, 'OK, this is it,' but we made some stops on them -- about three or four stops I believe we made -- and kept them from getting what they wanted."
IN SHORT » The Jazz never trailed in beating the Timberwolves but were left clinging to a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
KEY MOMENT » Mehmet Okur hits two three-pointers in the last three minutes as part of a 22-point game.
KEY STAT» Paul Millsap played 41 minutes and Okur played 38 in the front end of the back-to-back set.