How do you get Carlos Boozer into the flow of the game? On Wednesday, from Andrei Kirilenko's perspective, the offensive strategy was simple.
"Just give him the ball and forget about it," Kirilenko said.
Maybe watching Boozer make one dunk and layup after another is what made the Russian so frustrated about his own lack of offensive involvement in Utah's 104-83 win over Denver, watching him have so much fun made everyone wishful.
Boozer had a game-high 25 points and 13 rebounds and shot 11-for-19. On a night when Utah shot 48.4 percent as a team, Boozer's offense seemed particularly easy.
"That was a lot of fun out there," Boozer said. "Andrei made some great passes, Deron [Williams] made some great passes and Keith [McLeod] came in and made some great passes. We helped each other out and had a lot of fun."
Boozer scored 10 points in the first quarter, and continued to click with Williams on the pick-and-roll like Utah's upper management had hoped for earlier this year, before "tweak" became the definition of a major injury to Boozer's hamstring. The Jazz are 15-14 since he returned Feb. 10, and have won seven of their last nine. Boozer has averaged 20.6 points and 10 rebounds in the last nine games.
"I'm not going to rank myself, but I'm playing well," Boozer said. "We're having a blast. . . . Now we've got to continue this roll."
Boozer's success Wednesday was helped by the absences of injured Nuggets' Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin, but as Utah coach Jerry Sloan said, Utah has dealt with its share of injuries and no one is going to feel bad about exploiting another team's problem.
"Carlos was terrific," Sloan said. "He bulled his way in on a lot of those shots."
Boozer had seven points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter, outrebounding the entire Denver team by one in the stretch. Utah outscored the Jazz 33-20 in the quarter.
"I thought we would have had a chance to win the game but at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter, Boozer and their rebounding took control of the game," Denver coach George Karl said. "We didn't have the heart or the energy to fight down the stretch."
Kirilenko said he was surprised Denver, fighting for home-court advantage in the playoffs beyond the first round, didn't give more of a challenge in the second half. The Jazz, meanwhile, are still holding onto their thin playoff hopes. Nights like Wednesday, with a healthy Boozer in the lineup and the offense coming easily, is almost bittersweet to the players.
"You can always say woulda, coulda, shoulda," Jazz forward Matt Harpring said. "But that is the thing about the NBA, you can't help injuries."
If he had returned to the lineup earlier, Boozer said Utah's playoff position would be much different.
"I don't think we'd be fighting for eighth," he said. "I think we'd be playing for home-court advantage."