Jefferson to face former team

Mar 11 2011 - 12:03am

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SALT LAKE CITY -- In the days following Jerry Sloan's resignation and Deron Williams' departure from the Utah Jazz, teammates Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap got together for a one-on-one meeting.

Clearly the Jazz were going through a major reconstruction and Jefferson and Millsap felt they needed to involve themselves in the process.

"Me and Paul made it up in our minds we have to step up," Jefferson said. "We have to be a big part of the offense and defense."

Jefferson made a huge contribution Wednesday night in Toronto, scoring 34 points including a last-second tip-in to propel the Jazz to a 96-94 victory.

Tonight, Jefferson will face his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, in Minneapolis.

He has downplayed any added emotion in playing against the T-Wolves, who traded him to Utah last July.

The Jazz (34-31) already have beaten Minnesota (16-50) twice this season, winning at the Target Center in December and at EnergySolutions Arena in January.

In those two games, the 6-foot-10 center has averaged 15.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots.

But in the Jan. 28 meeting, Jefferson went just 3-for-14 from the field and finished with eight points and 14 rebounds.

That night it was Millsap who played the key role, recording 30 points eight rebounds, six steals and a blocked shot as the Jazz held on for a 108-100 victory.

Millsap, who is dealing with an inflamed left patella tendon, will be a game-time decision tonight. The power forward tried to play Monday in New York, but was ineffective and did not return after halftime.

He sat out Wednesday's game against the Raptors.

Both Millsap and Jefferson have been banged-up throughout the season but have tried to push through the pain.

Now that they're seen as key leaders on the team, they say they'll continue to do so.

Millsap noted that when point guard Devin Harris and 19-year-old rookie power forward Derrick Favors arrived from New Jersey following the Williams trade, he felt he needed to show more leadership.

He said he and Jefferson both have tried to mentor Favors in particular.

"It's not just me and Al," he said. "It's a team thing. I think everybody on this team is helping each other. We're also helping Devin as well."

The Jazz got Harris, Favors and a pair of future first-round draft picks on Feb. 23 when they sent Williams to the Nets.

Two week earlier, Sloan abruptly resigned.

Since the beginning of February the Jazz have gone 5-11 and have fallen out of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Since Williams left, they have gone 3-5.

"It's strange, it's different," Millsap said. "You walk in (the locker room) and you expect (Williams) to say something, but he's not there. It's strange."

Jefferson is just 65 games into his Jazz career but quickly is becoming the team's go-to player.

He has scored 70 points in Utah's last two games.

"I'm the type of guy that leads by example," he said. "I've never been a vocal leader. Paul's kind of that way, too. I guess that's the way we've been doing it."

In the eight games since the Williams trade, Jefferson has averaged 28 points and 10.2 rebounds and has scored 30 or more points four times.

Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love said he plans to play against the Jazz tonight, despite having a bruised left knee.

Love didn't practice on Thursday to rest his leg, but he said he will be ready for the Jazz.

Love had 16 points and 21 rebounds in a win over Indiana on Wednesday. It was his 52nd consecutive double-double, passing Moses Malone for the longest streak since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976.

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