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Starks better coming off bench

If changing the Jazz's starting lineup was expected to jump-start the recently moribund offense, well, it didn't.

But coach Jerry Sloan still rated the switch a success, if only because it got something out of one of the two players involved.

And for that reason, expect to see Bryon Russell start at big guard again, with John Starks coming off the bench as his backup.

"I thought John played better," Sloan said after Utah's 95-88 victory Friday over Cleveland at the Delta Center. "At least we had one guy play better."

The move was supposed to help the Jazz avoid the horrible starts that have been a big factor in their recent losses to teams from Texas. But the Jazz again struggled from the opening tip, committing nine turnovers in the first quarter while scoring a mere 21 points. And Russell, in his first start since Donyell Marshall replaced him in the starting lineup at small forward, didn't score in that first period.

"Bryon and John both have been struggling," Sloan said. "It was an opportunity to flip-flop things a little bit, see if we could get something out of them."

What the Jazz got out of them was improved play from Starks, who acknowledges that he's been awful lately.

"I haven't been shooting the ball well, and it's been hurting us," he said.

Starks made four of eight shots, totaling eight points and five assists in 32 minutes. But what Sloan was more impressed with was that Starks was "much more active defensively."

Russell, on the other hand, continues to struggle. He made one of 10 shots, totaling a paltry four points, two assists and three rebounds in 35 minutes.

Sloan says Russell has become preoccupied with his shooting slump and needs to think about the other end of the court first.

"Bryon has been struggling a great deal, trying to think the ball into the basket rather than just shooting it," the coach said. "When he goes out and thinks offense first, it doesn't come to him quite as easily."

Russell's postgame comments might lead one to believe the coach is right in saying he's too concerned with offense.

"I've got to get my rhythm back," he said. "I'm rushing shots, not following through on shots. I'll get it back."

One concern whenever a move like this is made is how the demoted player is going to handle it, but Starks seemed to have no problem with coming off the bench.

"It's a role I'm going to relish right now," he said. "I think I can be very productive in it. I think it's going to work out for both of us."

Jazz veteran Karl Malone was impressed with his teammates' reaction to the switch.

"The guys handled it really well," he said. "John Starks handled it like a true professional. He could have just dropped his head down and had an attitude about it, but John Starks has been great all year."