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Shorthanded Jazz outlast Mavericks in return home

Dec 27, 2008 - 6:21 AM By Tony Pizza PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- For nearly 18 straight years, the Utah Jazz enjoyed nearly injury-free basketball behind iron-man superstars like John Stockton and Karl Malone. With their playoff hopes high, this injury-riddled season has been more like a nightmare.

That didn't stop little-used rookie Kosta Koufos from scoring a career-high 18 points in just his second NBA start as the Jazz beat an exhausted Dallas Mavericks team, 97-88, on Friday night.

"They're great players on the Dallas team, but I felt no pressure," Koufos said. "I just wanted to play within myself."

Ronnie Brewer broke out of his shell to lead the Jazz with 21 points - more than he scored in the past four games combined. Deron Williams added 17 points and 13 assists for the Jazz, who have played with 10 different lineups - none of which have been the projected starting five they started training camp with.

"I thought our guys played really well," Sloan said. "Our guys were kind of shorthanded, but they came out and really did a nice job trying to run the offense and execute. It really seemed like they pulled together to try to win the game right from the beginning of the ballgame."

The Mavericks, fresh off a 102-94 win over the Portland Trail Blazers the day before, didn't get into their hotel until well after 4 a.m. and failed to take advantage of the depleted Utah lineup.

"We struggled," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle said. "But I'm not going to make excuses about the travel or anything like that. Everybody gets put in this position at some point, and you've got to be able to come out and play."

Dirk Nowitzki's flagrant foul-2 ejection with 9:42 remaining in the game didn't make matters any easier on the visitors. In a physical scramble under the basket, Nowitzki was pushed in the back as Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko grabbed an offensive board. In frustration, Nowitzki delivered a light forearm to Matt Harpring and was whistled for the foul.

"It appeared to me to be accidental, but they said his fist was closed so it's an automatic flagrant-2," Carlisle said.

Jason Terry scored 26 points off the bench to go with Nowitzki's 17-point output, but the Mavericks lost in Salt Lake City for the third consecutive game. Josh Howard was the only other Dallas player in double figures with 18 points as the Mavericks lost for just the fifth time in their last 20 games.

Even before getting hit with an ejection, Nowitzki was booed incessantly every time he touched the ball. Jazz fans likely remembered last May, when Nowitzki was suspended for one game after he dragged Andrei Kirilenko down from behind, injuring the Russian forward's hip in the process and being hit with a flagrant foul-1. That play earned him a one-game suspension from the league.

Kirilenko finished with nine points and 14 rebounds in this one and seemed to frustrate Nowitzki defensively throughout the game.

"I've never (been) big into talking trash," Kirilenko said. " I was trying to play kind of close to (Nowitzki) because he's such a great player, you can't give him space. A couple of times he was trying to separate, so he got the offensive foul."

Kirilenko - typically the team's Sixth Man - started his first game of the season as injuries have depleted Utah's frontcourt to the bone. He went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line despite going just 1-for-12 from the field.

All-Star forward Carlos Boozer missed his 19th consecutive game with a strained tendon in his left quadriceps, his replacement Paul Millsap - who averaged a double-double in Boozer's stead - missed his first game in three NBA seasons with a strained PCL, and All-Star center Mehmet Okur missed the game with back spasms, leaving the Jazz significantly thin.

Despite a sluggish start, the Mavericks managed to cut Utah's lead to five with a Jason Kidd rebound that led to James Singleton's dunk with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game.

Brewer's jump shot with 6:07 left stopped a 12-2 Dallas run and Deron Williams scored four straight points in a 27-second span to give the Jazz a 92-82 cushion.

"I have a lot of respect for Deron," said Kidd, who spent the summer as Williams' teammate during the Summer Olympics. "He's a guy who can really fill up the stat sheet and he runs their team real well. Once he gets healthy, he'll be an All-Star and one of the best point guards in the league."

Kidd finished with seven points, nine assists, eight rebounds and five steals, but Dallas shot just 41 percent (33-of-81) from the field.

Fesenko, who has averaged 3.2 minutes of playing time for the Jazz, also picked up the slack in Utah's frontcourt. He had eight points, four rebounds and three blocks in 15 minutes and combined with Koufos to disrupt several Dallas possessions.

"They did a great job," Sloan said of Fesenko and Koufos. "It's amazing - sometimes they get a little confused about what they're supposed to be doing, but I thought they were alive and active and when you have that, you have a chance every time you step on the floor."

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