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NBA: Utah Jazz forward Josh Howard nears return to lineup

Published January 25, 2012 12:35 pm

NBA • Howard's return will intensify fight for playing time.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Coach Tyrone Corbin has a problem.

The 10-player rotation he used last week, when the Jazz won three of their four games, is about to become more congested.

Forward Josh Howard, Utah's No. 3 scorer, who has been sidelined with a strained quad, is close to returning. Howard practiced Monday and will do so again Tuesday.

Although Howard continues to call himself "day-to-day," he will likely play Wednesday night against Toronto, barring any setbacks.

"I feel a lot better," Howard said. "I'll get out there and do a little bit more practicing and see how it goes. I think I'll be OK.

"That's the good thing about being a vet. You know how to recuperate and get back out there so you can do the things you were doing before."

Howard has been invaluable to the Jazz as an off-the-bench scorer — an athletic perimeter player whose size, strength and quickness make him a difficult matchup for opponents.

That's why Corbin might be scratching his head.

His Howard-less wing rotation, which has included Gordon Hayward, Raja Bell, C.J. Miles and rookie Alec Burks, has been effective:

• Miles scored a season-high 19 points against the Clippers.

• Bell matched his season high with 12 against Minnesota.

• Hayward scored 19 points during a road win at Denver.

• Burks reached double figures in three of the past four games.

Now, however, Corbin must figure out how to reintroduce Howard into the rotation without having his other players take a step back.

"Healthy competition," Corbin said. "Something that has helped us so far is having guys who come in every day and compete for time on the floor.

"I feel good about all the guys. If the situation is right, they'll be in the game. If somebody is struggling, it's a chance for somebody else to get minutes. It will continue to be that way."

Howard doesn't sound concerned about reclaiming every one of the 23 minutes he averaged before his injury.

"Obviously, we're playing great," he said. "So I just want to fit in and do what I can do. We're going to make his [Corbin's] job difficult. But, being a vet, if he chooses not to play me as much, that's fine. I'll be ready whenever he calls my number."

Miles and Bell, in particular, played well while Howard was sidelined. If anyone's minutes are reduced when he returns, it could be Burks.

"We'll talk about it and let it play out," Corbin said. "It depends on ... how it's going. Guys understand that. We're looking for whatever gives us the best chance to win that game."

Said Bell: "You just go to work like you do every day. You don't control any of those decisions, so you just go about your business."

Beyond playing time, Howard's return will benefit the Jazz because, starting with Toronto, they play nine games in the next 14 nights.

"Freshness is the key when you hit a stretch like that," Bell said. "So having that many guys in the rotation — not a bad thing."

Said Howard: "There will be minutes for everybody."

luhm@sltrib.com

Jazz facing tricky minute mathematics

How the Jazz's wing players have produced in the past four games, which Josh Howard missed with a quad strain:

Player Min. FGs FTs Rebs. Asts. Pts. Ave.

Raja Bell 114 13-27 3-3 7 4 33 8.3

Alec Burks 72 12-30 10-12 11 1 37 9.3

Gordon Hayward 108 12-31 10-14 14 10 35 8.8

C.J. Miles 87 18-42 18-22 10 7 58 14.5