Los Angeles • With just three exhibition games remaining, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has begun to put more playing time in the hands of starters and key rotation players than reserves.
Sloan wants to gauge the conditioning of his team's primary athletes, determining whether Utah is regular-season ready as an Oct. 27 road contest against Denver approaches. The game will tip off the Jazz's 2010-11 campaign.
"I'm trying to get most of the guys that start back in the ballgame, so other guys can kind of fill in and see where we are," said Sloan, prior to the start of Utah's preseason game Saturday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Jazz coach is well known for his tendency to experiment with starting lineups during exhibition play. But while there were three changes to Utah's first rotation Saturday Earl Watson made his first start of the preseason; Andrei Kirilenko and Raja Bell returned to the initial starting lineup all fell in line with Sloan's new focus. And eight players clocked at least 20 minutes Utah's 103-97 victory over the Clippers.
Three Jazz centers did not take the court Saturday. Mehmet Okur (Achilles), Kyrylo Fesenko (sprained right wrist) and Francisco Elson (strained right hamstring) were out of action.
The big men ran through pregame warm-up drills, with Okur looking particularly sharp. But he is out indefinitely, while Fesenko and Elson are day to day.
Sloan said Utah will make do in the paint during the interim. And while he is not overly concerned about the fact that Elson has yet to play during the preseason, Sloan acknowledged that a lack of repetition could have an affect as the opener approaches.
"You have to do it kind of on-the-job training," Sloan said. "Kind of slows you down a little bit. But we'll see where he is when he comes back."
With Utah's centers ailing, rookie forward Jeremy Evans received another opportunity to prove his mettle.
Evans entered the game averaging 7.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting a team-high 73.3 percent from the floor.
He did not disappoint Saturday. Evans put up nine points and collected seven rebounds in 27:40, keying a second-quarter rally that gave the Jazz a 51-47 halftime lead.
A hard dunk by Evans late in the second period off a sterling assist from guard Ronnie Price was the highlight of the forward's performance.
Sloan said that the rookie from Western Kentucky has earned the chance to prove himself.
"You look at Jeremy and say, 'Well, he's not very strong and can't do this and that,' " Sloan said. "But he's a very smart player. He works hard. And those things don't hurt you."
With Utah drawing near to a regular-season deadline that will force the team to shrink its 17-man roster to at least 15, Sloan feels that Evans has responded well to every challenge he has faced thus far.
"I guess that's up to the coach," Evans said. "Whatever he decides: Stay here or go to the [Development] League. It really doesn't matter."
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