After an impressive 4-1 pre-Christmas road trip, the Jazz return to familiar faces and places this week. They meet Midwest Division opponent Minnesota Monday night - a team they've already played twice this year. They're back at the Delta Center for two home games. And forward David Benoit, missing the last 22 games with a torn left hamstring, was activated Monday morning.

Benoit, who was injured in a Nov. 10 game against Atlanta, practiced with the Jazz Sunday night for the first time since the injury. He went through scrimmage sessions without problems, jumping easily and appearing ready to play."I didn't feel any pain at all. I ran pretty smoothly," said the third-year NBA forward.

In activating Benoit, the Jazz waived rookie forward Aaron Williams.

"It (the leg) feels great right now," Benoit said. "I've put myself through some intense workout sessions. I felt good in the drills. Maybe I'm a little winded, but as far as everything else, I feel pretty good," he said.

Coach Jerry Sloan said Monday he was uncertain whether Benoit will return to his position in the starting lineup.

The return of Benoit will pose a problem coaches love: too many good players. Rookie Bryon Russell wasn't supposed to be much of a factor this year, but after Benoit's injury he came on to start the next 22 games. Russell has played well defensively and is shooting 51 percent from the field.

Respected veteran Tyrone Corbin has been in an early-season shooting slump, but his stats are slowly rising. After a 3-for-3 performance last Thursday at San Antonio, his shooting percentage rose to .435.

Then there's Benoit, the talented but unpredictable forward who battled confidence problems last season.

Benoit's return means someone probably won't be happy with his playing time. "We'll just have to go with the guys who are doing the job," said Sloan. "We'll just have to do whatever goes along with what we're trying to accomplish, and that's win ballgames."

Sloan pointed out that Benoit also has considerable experience playing power forward.

"If a guy's not doing the job," Sloan added, "there are guys wanting to get in the game. It's not like if they're not doing the job, we're just going to ride it out."

While Sloan talks about playing all three players, keeping them all happy won't be easy. Asked if the Jazz can keep three small forwards happy, Benoit replied, "I don't know. One of them will have to go, so . . . you never know how it's going to work out."

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"Eventually," he added, "we'll have to settle on two guys. I'm pretty sure they will."

Keeping players happy is something the Jazz will have to deal with as time goes on. In the immediate future is the problem of figuring out how to play well in the traditionally sloppy first game after Christmas. Considering the Jazz have already beaten the Timberwolves twice this year, they could well play lethargically.

"We won't win if we do that," continued Sloan. "Whether it's Minnesota or whoever we play."

Sloan added, "I'll be discouraged if we don't come out and play hard. I'd like our fans to be entertained by the fact that we play hard. Although sometimes even that may not be good enough."

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