Josh Howard quickly becomes Utah Jazz's X-factor

Forward is becoming Jazz's X-factor as he climbs the ranks in scoring, free throws.
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It took only 10 games for Josh Howard to answer the questions.

Yes, he still has game.

And, yes, he can make it work in Salt Lake City.

Howard hasn't just been a free-agent steal for the Jazz. He's on the verge of becoming the third-best player wearing a Utah uniform.

"He's a tremendous offensive weapon because he knows how to play, [knows] how to get open. … He's a competitor, man, that we enjoy having on the team," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.

After tying a season high with 18 points and grabbing four rebounds Wednesday during Utah's 90-87 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the ninth-year forward ranks third on his new team in average scoring (11.4), first in made free throws (4.0) and second in steals (1.1). In addition, the former Dallas standout entered Thursday tied for 18th in the NBA in free-throw percentage (88.9).

Strong numbers for a bench player who's averaging just 23 minutes per game and didn't join the Jazz until training camp had already started. Even stronger when considering Howard technically signed with Utah as a gamble. He inked a one-year deal with the small-market team in the hope of proving he could again be the dynamic athlete who averaged at least 15.6 points and five rebounds for the Mavericks from 2005-09, not the injury-plagued letdown who played in just 22 games combined for Washington the last two seasons.

"This is the best I've actually felt since I've been back playing ball professionally this season. So, the sky's the limit," Howard said. "Keep getting in the training room and the weight room … and just keep getting better."

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor's risk has been Utah's reward. Long-armed, fearless and aggressive, Howard scored 13 of his 18 points Wednesday after halftime. He tied the game at 76 late in the fourth quarter, drilling a 25-foot 3-pointer and raising a fist skyward while EnergySolutions Arena erupted. He hit a 3 in OT that made it 85-81 Utah. And he pulled down a crucial rebound with 16.5 seconds to go that gave the Jazz a strong chance to win their sixth consecutive game.

"He's the X-factor," said Utah backup point guard Earl Watson, who often teams with Howard in the second unit. "You've got to consider him one of the top sixth [men] in the NBA. He does an amazing job; shows up [in] big moments. He wants to win."

Utah ultimately failed down the stretch. But Howard did everything within his power to keep the Jazz alive, fighting off lingering pain in his left quadriceps and minor tendinitis in his right knee.

"Got to keep going," he said.

Briefly • Watson (left knee) underwent a magnetic-resonance imaging exam Thursday, the team announced. He is day to day. Utah will update his status Friday in advance of a home game Saturday against New Jersey.

Twitter: @tribjazz —

Josh Howard file

Position • Forward

Year • 9

Vitals • 6-foot-7, 210 pounds

2011-12 stats • 11.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists

Career stats • 15.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists

Draft • No. 29 overall in 2003 by Dallas

College • Wake Forest —

New Jersey at Utah

P Saturday, 7 p.m., TV • ROOT Sports