Jazz: D-Will hopes to keep his hot hand
The tan was the obvious giveaway Monday evening of how much Deron Williams managed to get away from basketball over the All-Star break, spending three days on the golf course in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Not only hadn't he heard that coach Jerry Sloan had been selected Friday as a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame, Williams hadn't looked beyond Thursday's game against Boston on the Jazz's upcoming schedule.
Yet with the Jazz reconvening for the final 29 games of the regular season, Williams' challenge will be recapturing the momentum with which he entered the break after five consecutive 30-point scoring games.
With Carlos Boozer (knee surgery) and Andrei Kirilenko (ankle surgery) out, Williams has carried the Jazz in their absence. His streak of 30-point games in the franchise's longest since Karl Malone had six straight from Feb. 18 to Feb. 28, 1997, in his first MVP season.
"He talked to me about that maybe a week or two ago," Boozer said of Williams. "He said, 'I'm going to try to do as much as I can to carry the load while you're out,' and he has been."
Williams, who has averaged 33 points and 8.4 assists while htting 58 of 97 shots (59.8 percent) during his streak, confirmed his scoring has come out of necessity.
"I felt like I needed to take it upon myself since I was feeling better to start trying to pick up the scoring load and try to take over games a little bit more," Williams said.
The streak has put Williams in head-spinning company, considering he has shot better than 50 percent in each of his five 30-point scoring games. The last player to do so was LeBron James in six games from Feb. 27 to March 10, 2007.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last guard to do so before Williams was Michael Jordan in November 1996. The last player who could be remotely considered a point guard to do so before Williams was Pete Maravich, going back 33 years.
"He does a really good job as a point guard of kind of feeling out the game," Kyle Korver said, "and knowing when he has to try to get his, when he has to try to get a couple baskets to try to get a team going. But he's out there to try to set up everybody else first."
Almost since the streak started, Sloan has maintained Williams finally appears to have turned the corner on the sprained ankle he suffered in the preseason. It was the worst injury of Williams' career and kept him out of 13 games in the season's first month.
Williams confirmed as much Monday: "I feel a lot better than I was, say, a month ago. There's still pain in my ankle. I've just learned to deal with it, learned to get past it, and I can worry about it after the season's over."
The injury also cost Williams a chance at playing in this weekend's All-Star Game, but Korver said no regrets were expressed in Cabo.
There was one text message Williams received during dinner Saturday with an update on the dunk contest, but Korver said of Williams and All-Star: "We didn't talk about it one time."
For a little longer, Williams' scoring will continue to be needed. Kirilenko practiced Monday and could return tonight against Memphis, but Boozer still is trying to strengthen his knee through rehab, though he has done some court work.
Williams talked less about the need to carry through his own momentum from last week than the Jazz's as a whole. The Jazz went into the All-Star break having won four of their last five games, capped by Wednesday's 113-109 triumph over the L.A. Lakers.
"We've just got to let the wins pile up," said Williams, who could get his wish with the Jazz hosting the Grizzlies to open a four-game homestand that is their longest remaining this season.
The Jazz (30-23) went into the break with a one-game lead over Phoenix for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. They are only 2 1-2 games out of fourth place, however, which would bring home-court advantage in a first-round series.
"We're excited about the second half," Williams said. "We're excited that despite all the injuries, we're still in eighth place. We have a long season, a lot of basketball to be played, a lot of time to turn it around."
Jazz guard Deron Williams has scored 30 points or more in his last five games, while shooting better than 50 percent in each of those games. A look at the last players to do so, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Last player » LeBron James, 6 games, Feb. 27, 2007 to March 10, 2007
Last guard » Michael Jordan, 5 games, Nov. 20, 1996 to Nov. 29, 1996
Last Jazz player » Karl Malone, 5 games, Feb. 26, 1995 to March 7, 1995
Last point guard » Pete Maravich, 6 games, Jan. 28, 1976 to Feb. 6, 1976*
* Maravich led the New Orleans Jazz with 5.4 assists per game in 1975-76 -- nearly twice as many as any teammate -- leading Elias to classify him as a point guard.
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