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Utah Jazz: Millsap a good dilemma for Sloan

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The morning after the Jazz opened their 2008-09 NBA season last Wednesday night, Utah coach Jerry Sloan was bemoaning a problem most teams would envy.

A glut, that is, of capable swingmen — and not nearly ample playing time to share.

"There's not enough minutes to give every one of those guys an opportunity to play the amount of minutes they want to play," he said at the time.

Nearly a week later, Sloan's welcome dilemma was compounded.

Blame Paul Millsap for that.

The Jazz's backup power forward had a 24-point, nine-rebound night in an 89-73 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.

Fifteen of Millsap's points came consecutively during a fourth-quarter stretch in which the now 3-0 Jazz comfortably separated themselves from a still-winless Clippers club.

He did it with starting power forward and two-time NBA All-Star Carlos Boozer watching from the bench, on an evening in which Millsap would log 32 minutes and Boozer — who had 20/10 games in each of his first two outings of the season — just 29.

He did it, too, by lighting up 12-year veteran forward Tim Thomas — prompting Sloan to ponder how in the world he is going to find sufficient minutes down the road for Millsap as well.

The answer, if Millsap should continue to play like he has to start the season, may be by altering initial plans for the Jazz's regular rotation.

"The substitutions have been kind of a pattern," said Sloan, whose Jazz play host tonight to Portland at EnergySolutions Arena. "But that doesn't mean they have to stay that way."

A warning shot over the bow?

If Millsap's ship keeps sailing like it did in victories both Saturday and Monday over the Clippers, it is indeed.

And it all couldn't come at a more fortuitous time for Millsap, a second-round draft from Louisiana Tech in 2006 who was shrewdly signed to a three-year rookie deal that pays him $797,581 this season — rather paltry by NBA standards.

It's a contract season now for Millsap, who'll become a restricted free agent in the offseason — and who stands to make exponentially more in the future, especially if he finishes the season like he's started it.

Not that he claims to be consumed by any of that, be it minutes or money matters.

"I'm just going to continue to do what I've been doing," said Millsap, who depending on matchups can be used anywhere from small forward to center. "You see (Monday) that that worked for me.

"So I'm going to get out there just continue to work hard, and continue to do the little things that got me where I'm at."

Millsap's night was made easier Monday by the efforts of new fellow sub Andrei Kirilenko, whose own 15-point, 11-rebound night seemed lost amid the gaudy fourth-quarter numbers his teammate put up.

But reality is that Kirilenko was largely responsible for helping to facilitate Millsap's performance, keeping him involved with frequent passes and unheralded team play.

"I know what to do," Kirilenko said. "We need to deliver the ball to him."

But delivering an honest night's effort really does seem to be the biggest key to success for the 6-foot-8 Millsap, an undersized scrapper who led the nation in rebounding for three straight seasons at Louisiana Tech.

"You aren't going to get (the ball) if you don't go after it. It's just as simple as that," Sloan said. "It sounds corny, but that's the way life is. And he's always been relentless around the boards. Sometimes you think the size is going to bother him, but he gets up so quick."

So even though teammate Deron Williams suggested some pre-game sushi did the trick, and even though Sloan told Millsap on Tuesday to eat more of whatever it really was (chicken) that he had before the game, the secret truly has nothing whatsoever to do with what's sitting in the belly.

Rather, Millsap said, it's, "just hard work."

No wonder Millsap's response to the suggestion that Thomas seemed rather flustered on Monday night was, "If I'd been on the other end, I'd have been frustrated."

Sloan's headache is maddening in a different regard.

Last time Millsap had such a showy game, scoring a career-high 28 against Orlando last December, he had a two-point game two outings afterward, and scored in double figures in only six of nine games that followed the one against the Magic.

On nights like those, 20-minute opportunities are appropriate. But if he can keep playing like Monday, that just won't cut it.

"That's what you're looking for," Sloan said. "You're looking to see the good game of anybody that plays and (ask), 'Are you going to give me another one?'

"That's the selfishness that you have to have in coaching," he added. "You expect another good game the next time. That puts pressure on everybody to have to perform ... and that's what makes your team better."

Makes it harder to manage, too — which is not at all a tough pickle to be in.

Jazz on the air

Trail Blazers (1-2) at Jazz (3-0)

Tonight, 7 p.m.

EnergySolutions Arena


Radio: 1320 AM, 96.7 FM

Contributing: Jody Genessy

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com