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Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin had two options Friday evening after learning starting shooting guard Raja Bell (strained right adductor) would be inactive against Portland: C.J. Miles or Josh Howard.
Corbin went with Howard. Not because Miles wasn't ready for prime time. But by promoting Howard and keeping Miles on the bench, Corbin hoped Utah's first unit would benefit at the same time the team retained a strong one-two punch at small forward.
With Howard at the 3, Gordon Hayward bumped down to the 2, while Derrick Favors replaced an injured Al Jefferson at center.
The contest marked Howard's first start for the Jazz. He'd spent the initial part of Utah's season working his way into game shape, becoming one of the team's main offensive weapons in the process. A strained left quadriceps forced him to miss four consecutive games from Jan. 15-21, though, and Howard entered Monday just 3 of 16 from the field since returning to action.
"It's unfortunate he got hurt. I thought he was coming along really well before he got hurt and we'd started expanding some of the calls with him in the game," said Corbin, prior to tipoff against the Blazers.
Howard's lack of comfort with Utah's offense was a primary reason Corbin resisted inserting him in the first unit.
But Howard said Monday he's as "comfortable as I'm going to get," adding the Jazz don't have any "strange" plays he struggles with.
After starting for Dallas during the majority of his first six seasons in the NBA, then coming off the bench for Washington from 2009-11 while he struggled with injuries, Howard's at a point in his career where he'll accept any role he's given. All he wants to do is play, and play well once his number is called.
"I'm going to fill in for Raja and just go out there and play defense as much as I can on whoever's in front of me, and then hopefully my minutes will come up more," Howard said. "Other than that, just keep playing ball."
Jefferson was inactive due to an inflamed right ankle, which is causing pain that continues to linger he felt like he was "walking on glass" Saturday against Sacramento.
The Jazz center missed his third game this season after playing in all 82 last year. He didn't go through shootaround and wore a large protective boot, showing off a noticeable limp due to a shot he received after the Kings game.
Corbin acknowledged Utah might be forced to rest Jefferson for a few games so his injury can properly heal, but a decision hadn't been made as of Friday night.
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