NBA: Jazz's Kirilenko plans to play in Game 3
AP Sports Writer
SALT LAKE CITY — Andrei Kirilenko is running out of patience and time to rehabilitate his left calf.
After more than a month of waiting for his strained calf to heal, Kirilenko expects to be playing for the Utah Jazz when they host the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday in the Western Conference playoffs.
Already down 2-0 to the defending NBA champions, the short-handed Jazz can use even a limited version of Kirilenko.
"We don't have that kind of luxury to wait, especially right now," Kirilenko said before the Jazz practiced Thursday. "I feel way better than I was like a week ago so I have to get back and start playing the game."
The undersized Jazz will welcome back the lanky, 6-foot-9 Russian, even if his calf is still a little gimpy and he's out of condition after the long layoff. Kirilenko still has those long arms, which have blocked 1,306 shots in nine seasons and can pluck the ball out of a crowd of bulkier players vying for a rebound.
"AK brings a lot to the table. If he can get a blocked shot, get a couple of rebounds let his presence be known, it'll help us," forward Carlos Boozer said. "I know he's been out for a while so everybody's going to be interested to see how he does, but he's up for that challenge. His length will help us against their length."
The Lakers dominated inside in the first two games, using 7-footers Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and bringing 6-10 Lamar Odom off the bench. The Lakers averaged 50.5 rebounds and 10 blocks while winning both games in Los Angeles.
How much Kirilenko can really help won't be apparent until Saturday, but even if he can only disrupt the Lakers a little bit inside, that's more than the Jazz have been able to do so far in the series.
Utah has used only nine players and young centers Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos have a total of six points and eight rebounds combined in the first two games. Adding Kirilenko to the rotation will allow coach Jerry Sloan to go with three forwards and spell Boozer and Paul Millsap more than he's been able to in eight playoff games.
Kirilenko missed 15 of the last 17 games of the regular season and hasn't played at all since March 26.
The Jazz survived the first round without Kirilenko and center Mehmet Okur, who ruptured his left Achilles' tendon in the playoff opener at Denver, but the lack of depth, experience and size have been the Lakers' most obvious edge in the series.
The Lakers returned to practice Thursday after a day off, knowing of Kirilenko's plans and the difference he can make for the Jazz.
"It gives you another player you have to concern yourself with," Lakers star Kobe Bryant said after Thursday's practice. "He's great around the ball. You have to watch him coming from the weak side to block shots. He gives them a great effort."
Sloan said he will probably keep Kirilenko inside rather than add stress to Kirilenko's calf by having him guard Bryant, who is averaging 30.5 points in the series.
None of the options Sloan was mulling Thursday sounded particularly appealing.
"We've still got to do a better job of trying to help each other. Obviously they've hurt us a great deal on the boards with their length," Sloan said. "We've got to do a better job of going back to the fundamentals and blocking guys off a little better and helping guys defensively. That all sounds so simple and easy but this is a great team we're playing against."
Kirilenko spent much of the last few seasons coming off the bench, but returned as a regular starter in January and the Jazz went on a 16-2 run before back spasms kept him out of two games in late February.
He averaged almost 12 points this season and any offense he could provide Saturday and Monday in Game 4 would be a bonus for the Jazz, who were able to hang with the Lakers in the first two games before losing 104-99 and 111-103.
"We just hope we can get some minutes somewhere along the line and give us some help," Sloan said. "We'll take anything we can get. We'll just have to wait and see."
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.