Thursday , Dec , 16 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Jazz are hurting without Kirilenko

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Utah is fading fast without All-Star
forward Andrei Kirilenko. After winning eight of their first 13 games, the
Jazz have lost eight of their last 10 to fall to a disappointing 10-13 on the
season.

On November 27th, Kirilenko suffered a sprained ligament in his right knee
during a 109-76 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at the SBC Center. The 23-year-
old forward suffered the injury during the first half of Utah’s 14th game of
the season.

Kirilenko, who is playing in his fourth season in the NBA, has started all 14
contests that he has played in this season for the Jazz. He has averaged 14.8
points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.43 steals and an impressive 4.43 blocks per game.

Last season, Kirilenko played in 78 games for the Jazz and averaged career-
highs in points (16.5 ppg) and rebounds (8.1 rpg). He earned a spot on the
Western Conference All-Star team for the first time in his career and kept
getting better as the season progressed.

There are high expectations for the Jazz in the 2004-05 campaign. Utah won 42
games in the 2003-04 regular season and did not qualify for the playoffs for
the first time since 1982-1983. The Jazz entered last offseason with room
under the salary cap and a plan to get stronger down low.

After drafting Minnesota forward Kris Humphries, Nevada guard Kirk Snyder and
center Pavel Podkolzin, who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, with their
three first round picks, the Jazz struck quickly when free agency started.
Utah signed forward Carlos Boozer and center/forward Mehmet Okur to lucrative,
multi-year deals.

The 23-year-old Boozer has been awesome for the Jazz. He has averaged team-
highs in points (19.2 ppg) and rebounds (9.4 rpg). Boozer continues to show
the Jazz and the rest of the NBA that he is the real deal and was worth the
investment.

Okur, who has started seven of Utah’s first 23 contests, has been solid. He
has contributed 11.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. The former Piston has
also proven to be a solid addition.

The missing ingredient is Kirilenko, who along with Boozer and Okur will give
the Jazz a very formidable frontcourt for many years to come. Utah management
signed Boozer and Okur because they knew what they had in Kirilenko and they
wanted to surround him with players who would not only help him become a
better player, but would benefit from his extraordinary talents.

Without the All-Star forward, the Jazz are 2-7. Utah’s defense has become soft
and its offense misses the all-around ability of the athletic Kirilenko. The
Jazz had scored 100 or more points in seven games with Kirilenko, without him
Utah has managed to hit the 100-point mark just three times and have failed to
score 90 points in four contests.

Defensively, the 6-9 Kirilenko is a fierce shot-blocker who makes opponents
think twice about driving the lane. He is the catalyst to Utah’s defensive
schemes, and without him in the lineup the opposition knows that it can have
its way down low against the Jazz.

The Western Conference is very competitive and the Jazz cannot afford to fall
behind any further in the standings. It is early, but there are many teams in
the West that are strong and are going to continue to rack up the wins. The
early loss of Kirilenko could end being the major factor that keeps Utah out
of the postseason for a second straight year.

Utah has had trouble recovering from the loss of Kirilenko. He is one of the
few players in the league that excels on both ends of the court. Originally
selected by the Jazz in the first round (24th overall) of the 1999 NBA Draft,
the Russian forward is one of the most underrated players in the NBA.

Kirilenko is the glue that holds the Jazz together. Without him, the Jazz are
hurting big time!