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Los Angeles » With limited options of his own and the Lakers starting two 7-footers in Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol , Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said Saturday he would stick with Kyrylo Fesenko even after Fesenko's nightmare Game 6 against Denver.
Fesenko finished scoreless Friday with four turnovers in 10 minutes and badly airballed a free throw in the first quarter. Sloan opted to play Kosta Koufos ahead of Fesenko to close the third quarter and open the fourth quarter.
Even worse, Sloan suggested he thought Fesenko became distracted by something as trivial as the balloons the Jazz dropped from the rafters at EnergySolutions Arena as part of player introductions.
"I think he was a little bit concerned about the balloons going off when he was starting the game," Sloan said. "Everybody has to have fun, but you've got to stay focused on how to play basketball. That's what we've said all along. He's got to continue to work at that."
Fesenko has made five starts since the Jazz lost Mehmet Okur to a ruptured left Achilles tendon in Game 1 of the Nuggets series. Having committed seven turnovers in the past two games, Fesenko admitted nerves have been a problem.
"I was overthinking, thinking too much about every moment, about every move," Fesenko said. "I just let like all the pressure in my head, I didn't handle it right. It comes with more experience."
Fesenko got an earful from assistant coach Phil Johnson in the first quarter when he failed to cut with Carlos Boozer double-teamed and the Jazz had to call timeout. He also said of his airballed free throw: "It really knocks me out. I was really, really, really concerned about it."
If he didn't start Fesenko, Sloan said he would be forced to play Boozer and Paul Millsap close to the entire game, something he doesn't consider realistic. Yet Fesenko also might not be ready to face the Lakers on the biggest stage in basketball.
"I don't like Staples Center because it's way too dark, like it's really hard to see," Fesenko said of the stage lighting the Lakers use. "You have to focus your eyes to see where the ball is. It's kind of annoying."
Fesenko did enjoy perhaps the proudest game of his three-year career against the Lakers as a rookie. He finished with six points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes on Nov. 30, 2007, as the Jazz beat the Lakers 120-96 with Boozer and Okur both out.
The Jazz had Fesenko working on his catching with a ball-return machine before Saturday's practice.
With the 36-hour turnaround between series, Andrei Kirilenko said he wouldn't be ready to return from his strained left calf for Game 1, though Kirilenko said he was "pretty confident" he'd be back for either Tuesday's Game 2 or Saturday's Game 3.
Kirilenko looked solid shooting 20-footers on the move with part-time coach Jeff Hornacek before Saturday's practice, but he has yet to do any full-court running. "It feels better and better and good," Kirilenko said, "but I need to get more work out."
Kirilenko mentioned the three-day break between Games 2 and 3 as offering a chance for him to get back up to speed and for the coaching staff to figure out what role he could play in limited minutes. Kirilenko has not played a full game since March 10.
With reports that Le- Bron James has won his second consecutive NBA MVP award, Koufos always can claim to have played against James in open gyms during the summertime starting when Koufos was just 15.
Koufos grew up in Canton, Ohio, near James' hometown of Akron, and played for James' AAU team. "Going up against one of the best talents in the world, it's just a great experience at such a young age," Koufos said.
How did James play in those summer games? "Even him playing 50 percent, he still dominates," Koufos said. For the record, Koufos didn't have any YouTube-worthy highlights playing against James, but he did both score on him and defend him.
Sloan to stick with Fesenko