Portland, Ore. • Injuries continue to get in the way of progress for veteran Jazz center Mehmet Okur.
After missing the first 26 contests of the season while recovering from left Achilles tendon surgery, Okur's first two games back in the lineup were rough and shaky. Still, he was on the court and gaining confidence as each minute passed.
But his return was cut short by a right ankle sprain, which forced him to miss two consecutive contests.
Four days of rest and practice followed, during which Okur had two of the best workouts of his season. He then produced back-to-back strong outings in game situations, highlighted by a 13-point performance Wednesday during a come-from-behind road victory against the Los Angeles Clippers. Looking strong and smooth, Okur recorded 11 first-half points and initially served as Utah's main offensive threat. But another injury soon shadowed his forward movement. Okur left the game with 8 minutes, 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter due to a lower back strain and did not return. He underwent an X-ray after the contest that was negative.
Okur was then given a magnetic resonance imaging exam Thursday in Portland, in an attempt to pinpoint the source of his pain. Results of the MRI will be examined today by Jazz orthopedist Dr. Lyle Mason.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said prior to tipoff Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers that he did not know anything about Okur's status, a sentiment that was echoed by several teammates, who said they had not spoken with the center after his MRI.
However, a team source said that Okur's back injury does not appear to be serious, and that Utah is simply being as cautious as possible in protecting the health of a player many Jazz players believe is a major key to the team's long-term success.
"We want him a full-fledged 100 percent for the playoffs," Utah guard Ronnie Price said. "We just want him to have a good recovery."
After averaging 75.5 games per season during the first eight seasons of his career, the 31-year-old Okur has dealt with heel, ankle and back injuries since April. He has played in just four of the Jazz's 33 games, averaging 6.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 14.3 minutes while shooting 36 percent from the field.
"He's very motivated to get back," Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko said.
Kirilenko is dealing with the same injury as Okur. However, Kirilenko said prior to tipoff that he hopes to play Saturday against Memphis. He acknowledged that his lower back strain is the type of injury that sometimes can force a player to sit out about a week. But after missing two consecutive contests, Kirilenko is eager to return to the court.