Easing in » Jazz expect forward to play 5 minutes a quarter.
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Between the highs of Thursday's victory over Boston, the shock that accompanied owner Larry Miller's death Friday and the heavy hearts they carried into Saturday's game against New Orleans, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would have preferred to give his players Sunday off.
Instead, Sloan opted to hold practice to give Carlos Boozer one final chance to test his left knee before making his much-anticipated return tonight against Atlanta. Boozer was injured Nov. 19, underwent knee surgery Jan. 9 and has missed 44 games the last three months.
"You've got to use as much common sense as possible to get him back ready to play and hopefully have him play well," Sloan said.
Boozer went through the Jazz's full practice Sunday, saying beforehand, "If everything looks good today, I'll play tomorrow." He is expected to start tonight, in what would be the Jazz's first game all season at full strength as a team.
Although he had done shooting drills, run through the Jazz's plays and played one-on-one against assistant Tyrone Corbin, Boozer had not had the opportunity to scrimmage until Sunday, the final hurdle remaining to clear before he could return.
"The scrimmage will be the funnest part for me today, because it'll give me a chance to test it out against the guys," said Boozer, who expects to play about five minutes a quarter initially as he gets up to speed.
Boozer's return is expected to further bolster the Jazz, who have gone 7-1 in February with victories over the L.A. Lakers, Boston and New Orleans, and are only two games out of the Western Conference's No. 4 playoff seed.
"We're rolling," Boozer said. "We beat three of the best teams in the league the last [four] games. We've overcome a lot of things, like All-Star break. Sometimes people go on the All-Star break, come back not ready. Everybody came back ready."
Added Boozer: "I think we're in a really good place. We have -- what? -- 26 games left and we're in a good position to continue to climb the ladder a little bit."
Boozer's return is expected to send Paul Millsap back to the bench. Millsap has averaged 15.9 points and 10.3 rebounds as a starter this season -- including a streak of 19 consecutive double-doubles -- but was accepting of his old role.
"I handle it like any other game," Millsap said. "I'll get used to it after a while. My career has been up and down anyways. It's for the better of the team. Booz is back and I'm going to continue to take my role off the bench."
Once Boozer resumes playing regular minutes, he and Millsap can expect to play together for stretches. That could be either as an undersized power forward/center combination or with Millsap seeing minutes at small forward.
"We're going to be really good," Boozer said, repeating those words. "We're both going to attack the boards tenaciously. We'll help each other do a good job on defense and run the court very well. We're both very versatile. It's going to be fun."
Sloan likes the idea of playing Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring together off the bench, with Millsap saying, "That's a great unit. Hopefully, we can spark a lot of energy when we come in."
Millsap might even see some benefit in playing fewer minutes, by being less concerned about foul trouble and capable of being more aggressive on the court. He has averaged 34.4 minutes a game as a starter this season and 26.2 minutes as a reserve.
Sloan is not expecting Boozer to be in anything close to game shape or to regain his timing overnight, but said just getting the All-Star forward back will be a boost.
"We need all the help we can get," Sloan said. "There's plenty of basketball to be played. You're looking at pretty much a college schedule [26 games] ahead of you now."
With Carlos Boozer's return expected for tonight's game against Atlanta, Paul Millsap is expected to return to his old role coming off the bench. A look at Millsap's numbers as a starter and reserve this season.