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Boozer's a no-go for opener

The Jazz will open the 2005-06 NBA season without their leading scorer from a season ago, would-be starting power forward Carlos Boozer.

Boozer re-injured his strained left hamstring during practice Monday, and on Tuesday coach Jerry Sloan said the Jazz will play the Dallas Mavericks tonight without him.

So be it, Sloan suggested.

"You'd rather have the best players," he said, "but sometimes you don't get that."

Tuesday's developments, however, could prove quite disconcerting for a team plagued by injuries in 2004-05. Those health woes, after all, weighed heavily on the Jazz's psyche throughout a 26-56 season.

"When you get so many injuries," Sloan said, "guys get their minds set, and it's pretty difficult to get in a positive manner."

Sloan, though, hopes that does not happen again.

"We," he said, "can't worry about those things."

Sloan does fret, though, over Boozer's individual circumstance.

"I think it's more disappointing to him. That's the thing," he said. "He's very disappointed. He worked very hard. He's worked as hard as anybody I've had to get himself in great shape, and to have these things happen to him is . . . very frustrating."

Boozer, who missed the final 31 games of last season with a strained foot, reported to training camp in early October looking in much-better shape than when he left in April.

He strained the hamstring at the tail end of the first week of camp, though, and missed all seven of Utah's preseason games.

Boozer had planned to scrimmage hard Monday and Tuesday, then play tonight.

It would have been his first game since last Feb. 14, when — amid a trying stretch of losses for the Jazz, and a public tiff with franchise owner Larry H. Miller regarding intensity and defensive effort — the foot problem arose.

Instead, Boozer, according to the Jazz, "tweaked" the hamstring Monday. It apparently happened during warm-up drills prior to scrimmage, when Boozer attempted to throw a lengthy pass.

"I guess that's why they call it 'day-by-day,' " he said. "One day it might be great, one day it might not be.

"It's very disappointing to me, because as a competitor I want to be out there at all times — especially with the way I came in shape, had a great summer (and) a great training camp until the last day of two-a-days," Boozer added. "I just have to take it day-by-day and ease off a little bit, and then hopefully I'll be back soon enough."

Boozer does not have a specific timetable for his return in mind, though it seems unlikely he will play in games Friday night at Golden State and Saturday night at home vs. Phoenix.

"At this point, it doesn't make any sense (to rush back)," Boozer said. "We'll just keep plugging away."

The Jazz play six of their next seven following the Phoenix game on the road, including a four-stop Eastern road swing that begins Nov. 7 in Charlotte and ends Nov. 12 at Chicago. "It's gonna bug us a little bit," Boozer said of his absence, "because I think we have a big-time schedule coming up.

"I think guys will step up to the challenge," he added. "It's an opportunity for some of the young guys to show what they can do and see how they can help the team."

Veterans and youngsters alike could pick up some of the playing time left behind by Boozer, who averaged 34.7 minutes — and 17.8 points — over the 51 games in which he did play last season.

Sloan would not reveal tonight's starting lineup Tuesday, though he did hint big man Mehmet Okur — who can play either center or power forward — would be part of it. "He's been the most consistent guy all through training camp and the exhibition season," Sloan said of Okur, who averaged 11 points during the preseason and scored a team-high 19 in last Friday's exhibition loss to Denver. "Maybe I'll move him over there (to the 4 spot). Kris (Humphries) will get a chance to play some there. Jarron (Collins) can fill that role."

There are other options at power forward, too.

One is using Matt Harpring, whom Sloan suggested should be ready to play tonight. Harpring, coming off repeat microfracture on his right knee performed last April, appeared in two of the Jazz's final preseason games. Another is fellow small forward Andrei Kirilenko, who made his first appearance at the 4 Friday against the Nuggets.

"I think in some cases that (power forward) is probably his best position at times," Sloan said of Kirilenko, the Jazz's leading preseason scorer with 11.1 points per exhibition.

Likelier than not, picking up for Boozer will be a group effort.

"We try to coach the guys that are here, and do the best we can," Sloan said. "Hopefully our guys can pull together and work a little harder to try to win some games.

"That's the important thing."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com