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Utah Jazz: Kirilenko ready to rejoin team on road trip

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Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko practiced on Monday before flying with his teammates to Chicago to begin a four-game trip starting against the Bulls at the United Center tonight. Kirilenko has missed Utah's previous three games with a right hip sprain sustained when he was flagrantly fouled by Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki last Wednesday.

"I've been running and shooting and it's been doing very good," Kirilenko said prior to Monday's practice. "It doesn't bother me, no soreness. A little tightness, but no pain."

Kirilenko's status has been upgraded from "doubtful" the previous three games that he missed to "game-time decision."

Kirilenko knows it may take some time be get back completely to where he was, but he's hopeful that he will be able to play tonight.

"I'm happy if I can start playing basketball again because five or six days of missing, you still get out of shape a little bit, out of game shape," he said.

If Kirilenko is able to go, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he would insert the 6-foot-9 Russian right back into the starting lineup. Third-year swingman C.J. Miles started the two games in Kirilenko's place.

"I want to (play against the Bulls). That's the goal and I think I will be able to," Kirilenko said. "We'll see."

Kirilenko's teammates hope he's able to go, too.

"A.K. is a special part of this team," said point guard Deron Williams. "He does what no other player on this team can do, and that is fill up a stat sheet. He does it offensively and defensively and he brings a lot of energy to our team."

Meanwhile, Jazz backup point guard Ronnie Price said he heard a "pop" in his shoulder during Utah's win over the Nuggets on Saturday night, but the injury wasn't serious. He was back at practice on Monday and is expected to be ready to play tonight.

GOING "HOME": Williams is a Texan, but he worked his way into becoming the No. 3 overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft with three distinguished seasons at the University of Illinois.

He helped the Illini to the national title game during his final collegiate season, and he has fond memories of is time on the Champaign-Urbana campus, about a two-hour drive from Chicago.

"It's definitely one of my favorite places to play," said Williams of his annual trip to Chicago. "The Illini fans will be everywhere. I've got a lot of friends there, so it will definitely be fun to go back to Illinois."

Sloan, whose number has been retired by the Bulls for his outstanding playing career, said "that's been so long ago that I've forgotten how to even get there anymore."

Sloan, however, said he is looking forward to spending some time with his daughter, who lives in suburban Chicago.

ROAD WOES: Of the nine Western Conference playoff contenders, only the Jazz, Mavericks and Nuggets have losing records on the road. Utah could sweep the four games on their current trip and still not be at .500, since the Jazz are currently 14-19 outside of EnergySolutions Arena.

But Utah has won two straight on the road, including a big come-from-behind victory at Phoenix on Friday.

"We've been playing better on the road of late and we need to continue doing that," said Jazz forward Carlos Boozer. "Obviously, if we are going to win a championship, we are going to have to win some games on the road, so this is a good test for us."

Williams feels playing well in the first quarter of games will be a key.

"We can't have any slow starts," Williams said. "It's tough on the road to get behind and have to come back time after time. We have to be the aggressor and set the tone early.


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com