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Kirilenko elevates Jazz

With minutes still limited, All-Star still makes big plays for team

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Utah's Andrei Kirilenko (47) lays the ball up over Seattle's Vladimir Radmanovic during the second half Wednesday.

Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko (47) lays the ball up over Seattle’s Vladimir Radmanovic during the second half Wednesday.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

The first couple times the Jazz lost to the Seattle SuperSonics this season, Andrei Kirilenko was injured and out.

The last time, just this past Sunday night, his playing time was limited by doctor's orders to just 14 minutes.

Wednesday night at the Delta Center, the leash was still on. The Jazz's lone All-Star was permitted just 20 minutes this time, getting 10 at the end of the second quarter and 10 more at the end of the fourth. But he made them count, especially when his effort was needed most.

Kirilenko had four of his five blocks and five of his 12 points in Wednesday's final quarter, and that combined with a career-high 11 assists and season-high 20 points in a career-high 38 minutes from point guard Raul Lopez helped the Jazz do what they have been unable to all season long:

Beat the Sonics.

Utah won 109-100 in front of 18,821 at the Delta Center, ensuring Seattle did not sweep a season series with the Jazz for the first time since the 1982-83 season and reminding many just what Kirilenko means to coach Jerry Sloan's club.

"He's the heart and soul of the team," Seattle star Ray Allen said after a 27-point night of his own. "People feed off (Kirilenko), and he does a lot of little things to help the team win."

Down the road, beginning Friday night in Minnesota, he'll be able to do them much more often.

Kirilenko's conditioning may not be all he and Sloan want it to be after playing three games following a 26-game layoff due to a partial tear in the medial collateral ligament of his right knee, but otherwise it's all-systems go from here on out.

"I don't even feel any pain," Kirilenko said.

Unless complications arise, Sloan said the limit on minutes should be a thing of the past: "Hopefully, from now on, he'll be able to play whatever we decide to play him."

Wednesday, the 15-28 Jazz made do with the limited time they had Kirilenko.

Lopez, starting because Keith McLeod was put on the injured list earlier in the day with a strained hamstring, and shooting guard Raja Bell led the charge as the Jazz rallied from five down late in the third quarter.

Lopez found Bell for a 3-pointer that put the Jazz up by two with 32.6 seconds left in the third, and Bell, who finished with 18 points, answered a Luke Ridnour layup with two free throws to send Utah into the fourth up 79-77.

When Kirilenko stepped off the bench and entered with 10:05 to go, the Jazz's advantage stood at seven, 84-77.

Seattle, which made 13-of-22 3-pointers and got 36 points Sunday from Rashard Lewis, tried to nip its way back.

But with their long-distance shooting eye off (they made only 10-of-29 trey attempts Wednesday, including just 4-of-15 in the first half), their legs perhaps a bit weary in the second half of a back-to-back set following Tuesday's road win over the Los Angeles Lakers and Lewis limited to in part by Kirilenko's defense to just 15 points on 4-of-15 shooting, the Sonics came up short.

Seattle did get to within three at 84-81 with just less than nine minutes to go, but the second of consecutive Kirilenko baskets put Utah ahead 98-85 with more than four remaining.

The Sonics never came closer than seven back after that, allowing the Jazz — who also got 17 points apiece from Matt Harpring and Mehmet Okur, 14 from Carlos Boozer and 10 from Gordan Giricek — to savor the return of their Russian do-it-all.

"Teams get to be aware of him," Sloan said of Kirilenko.

"He's got the ability to make plays," the Jazz coach added, "and he can do different things that not very many people can do a lot of times."

With more to come, too.

"He's far from being where he was as a player," Sloan added, "(and) being able to do all the things that he can do."

Which is precisely why the 29-12 Sonics can only be happy this four-game season series with the Jazz is done.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com