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Imagine this: You're sitting on the Utah Jazz's bench, the five-minute mark of the first quarter is approaching, and you're getting yourself mentally ready to come in and give John Stockton a breather.

It's what you do every game. And then the coach sends someone else in.That's what happened to John Crotty. After playing the part of Stockton's backup for 14 of the first 15 games, Crotty sat there watching as veteran Jay Humphries went in.

"It caught me off-guard," Crotty said.

If that caught him off-guard, what happened the next game, when he didn't play at all? But if Crotty is used to anything, he should be used to change. His minutes have varied from zero to 27, partly due to Stockton's foul situation and the size of the Jazz's lead or deficit, but the reasons haven't always been clear.

"It's been difficult for me to read at times," Crotty admits.

A third-year player, Crotty started the season by making 10 of his first 19 shots, with 21 assists and six turnovers. But since then he's hit just 12 of 44, though his assist-to-turnover ratio has remained respectable - 32-10. Still, he doesn't think he's played that well.

After the game when Humphries took over his job, Crotty said he had a sit-down with coach Jerry Sloan, a "good talk." Since then, and especially since Humphries is struggling, Crotty has resumed duty as Stockton's first-quarter backup.

"I'm feeling more comfortable with the role I'm in again," Crotty said.

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Sloan saw all this coming. He said during veterans' camp that the problem with having the team's deepest bench ever would be finding minutes for everyone. How the players adjusted would be a key to the season. So far, everyone seems to be handling it OK.

Bryon Russell's minutes have varied a great deal, but he said that's just the way it is.

"Sometimes I sit there getting all anxious, I'm ready to come in, and then I don't," Russell said. "But I try not to let it get to me."

Veteran Tom Chambers sat through the first game of his career in which he didn't play on a coach's decision last Saturday, and there was some speculation about whether he might "retire" - as he did briefly last season.

But after that game, a loss to Charlotte, Chambers was one of six players who showed up at an optional practice on Sunday, and he came all the way from Ogden to do it.

* * *

The Jazz coaching staff knows when the team is being active on defense, and it has nothing to do with an opponent's shooting percentage or point total.

It's measured in deflections. A deflection, according to assistant coach Gordon Chiesa, whose job it is to tally these stats, is counted when: a defensive player gets his hand on a ball, steals a ball, picks up a loose ball, forces a jump ball, blocks a shot, takes a charge or draws a foul from an opponent by playing aggressive defense.

What keeping track of deflections allows the Jazz staff to do is prove statistically whether a player is playing defense. Chiesa posts the numbers on the locker-room chalkboard at halftime.

"Deflections are the barometer of an active defense," Chiesa said. "Winning NBA teams should be able to get eight deflections a quarter. You'd probably win 80 percent of your games if you didn't turn the ball over to negate that."

In beating Portland Monday, the Jazz had 22 first-half deflections.