Utah Jazz: Kirilenko 'ready' to play in Game 3

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Andrei Kirilenko hopes the fourth time is finally the charm.

So do the shorthanded Jazz.

Sidelined for 23 of 25 games since March 14 because of a strained calf muscle, Kirilenko declared himself ready to play before practice Thursday morning.

Barring more setbacks, Kirilenko will return for monitored minutes in Game 3 of the second-round playoff series between the Jazz and Lakers on Saturday night.

Jazz trainer Gary Briggs expects Kirilenko to be "90 or 95 percent" when the Lakers attempt to take a 3-0 lead at EnergySolutions Arena in the best-of-seven series.

Kirilenko participated in one-on-one and two-on-two workouts Wednesday, which he described as "full contact."

One day later, he reported no pain in his troublesome calf.

"I'm good," Kirilenko said. "I'm ready to go. ... I feel like part of the team again."

Kirilenko was injured on March 12, in a game at Milwaukee.

He tried to come back against Minnesota on March 17 and Indiana on March 26 but was able to play only a portion of those games before being re-injured.

Next, Kirilenko hoped to play in the first round of the playoffs against Denver. But two days before Game 1, he was hurt again while playing two-on-two.

Briggs says colleagues throughout the NBA and NFL confirmed calf injuries are "notorious" for their unpredictablity, and Kirilenko's problem was atypical because every time he was hurt, the muscle was damaged in a different spot.

That diagnosis was confirmed by doctors at the P3 Performance in Santa Barbara, Calif., where Kirlineko went between Games 1 and 2 for more evaluation and testing.

According to Briggs, those doctors called Kirilenko's series of injuries to different locations in the same muscle "extraordinary."

After only 69 minutes of playing time in the last eight weeks, Kilirlenko knows his conditioning will be a factor in Game 3 against L.A.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "I feel like I am just starting out in the preseason."

Special assistant Jeff Hornacek, who worked closely with Kirilenko throughout the season, agreed.

"A lot of times [the doctors] didn't want him doing anything," Hornacek said. "So this is like training camp for him."

Is Kirilenko worried Jazz fans will be expecting too much from him?

"People always expect too much," he said, smiling. "... I will just try to jump in there. I don't feel sorry for myself. Just bring as much to the table as I can to help us win games."

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan isn't certain how long he will be able to play Kirilenko -- at least initially.

"When you miss as long as he's missed, your conditioning is not going to be [good], unless he has some special pills or something in his pocket," Sloan said. "... [But] he seems to be making progress."

Kirilenko's minutes will be limited, based on continued improvement to his calf injury and the amount of conditioning work he squeezes in before Game 3.

"I'm not going to play him that much," Sloan said. "But we'll get some minutes out of him."

Along with Kirilenko, starting center Memo Okur has missed the playoffs because of a torn Achilles' tendon.

Still, the Jazz survived in the first round against Denver, but the Lakers' length has played a significant role in Games 1 and 2.

As a result, Kirilenko's limited minutes in Game 3 will likely come at power forward, Sloan said.

There, he can spell Carlos Boozer, Paul Millsap and largely ineffective Kyryrlo Fesenko in Utah's new-look power rotation.

While Kirilenko might also play some small forward or shooting guard, C.J. Miles, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver have not hurt the Jazz as much as their lack of size and depth close to the basket.

"We're definitely happy he's coming back," Deron Williams said. "He gives us a different look than we've had. ... The guy does a lot of special things for us -- a lot of intangible things."

Asked if there was any thought in the locker room that Kirilenko should have returned sooner, Miles shook his head.

"If Andrei can play, he plays," Miles said. "He played with a bad back [earlier] this season when maybe he shouldn't have. ...

"I mean, you have to be able to run and jump. That's the first thing you have to do to play basketball and he couldn't do it."

In 58 games during the season, Kirilenko averaged 11.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

"If he can go [in Game 3], he's a guy who brings everything to the table," said Boozer. "He's a presence on both sides -- offense and defense."

Asked what he can add as the Jazz attempt to breakthrough against the Lakers, Kirilenko said, "Little things have made the difference. The Lakers are a great team, so we must do all the little things. ... Maybe I can help us a little on the boards."

In his only game against the Lakers during the regular season, Kirilenko scored 17 points, grabbed five rebounds and blocked four shots.

"He adds a lot of energy to their team," Kobe Bryant said. "He's a very versatile defender. He's an excellent passer. He's all over the floor. You have to account for him when he's on the floor."

Does Kirilenko make Utah better?

"Oh, no question," Bryant said.