Full strength squad has lots of talent

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

The Jazz’s 113-109 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers a week ago was a warning to the rest of the league that the Jazz are back.

Deron Williams continued his mid-season return to form with a fifth-straight 30-point game, while the Jazz got a much-needed win heading into an All-Star break that featured trips to Mexico and home-cooked meals.

The win was a turning point for a team that has missed its two highest-paid players and immensely talented All-Stars.

Carlos Boozer, who has missed the past 42 games because of God-knows-what, played the role of high-fiver against the best team in the league, while Andrei Kirilenko sat there nervously with a look of anticipation and eagerness clouding his psyche. He probably just wanted to swat a Pau Gasol 10-footer into the seats.

Shades of the 2006-07 season were alive and well in the EnergySolutions Arena as Mehmet Okur proved to have the golden touch that he famously exhibited a few years back.

As they sit now, at 30-23, good enough for eighth place in the air-tight Western Conference, the Jazz find themselves looking onward and upward, not backward and downward.

Coach Jerry Sloan would be the first to tell any haphazard journalist that injuries don’t matter and that you have to play no matter what night in and night out, but that’s just the modesty and grittiness of Sloan.

The truth is, the Jazz have narrowly avoided drowning. The team members were able to untie the bricks that were fastened tightly to both ankles and speed toward the surface.

Utah’s “original” starting five have yet to play a game together. Fifty-three games in, Williams and Boozer, both owners of Olympiad bullion, have yet to step onto the court and pick-and-roll their way to a basket.

As for Kirilenko, he has been used as Sloan’s electrical cord to the second unit’s outlet. He’s missed the past 12 games8212;that’s 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal and a block that the Jazz have lacked each game since No. 47 had to give in to surgery.

Before this season started, the same Jazz squad was picked as the biggest threat to Kobe Bryant, L.A., Tom Cruise, David Beckham and Jack Nicholson.

The only problem was that the Jazz must not have figured out how to translate the tiny, obscured fine print that read “only when healthy.”

Luckily for Utah8212;one of the youngest teams in the league8212;it has kept its feet kicking, waiting for the right moment to be thrown a life preserver. That day is right around the corner.

With the return of Boozer (cough, excuse me, cough) and Kirilenko on the horizon, Sloan’s crew is heading toward the “no more excuses” ward.

It’s time for this team to show the league that it should be taken seriously and without hesitation.

The same team that features a point guard who breaks ankles and wills wins when pundits scream David West and cry Chauncey Billups and Tony Parker for All-Star status ahead of D-Will.

The same team that features a former quarterback (Matt Harpring) who doesn’t shy away from bodying up against a King or guarding a Black Mamba.

The same team that can’t figure out an 18-35 Golden State team or a 13-40 team of Thunder-ing youngsters.

The same team whose leader and tutor never, ever takes no for an answer.

The same team that no one wants to see come playoff time8212;”only if healthy.”

With Boozer, Okur, Paul Millsap, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver all approaching free agency at the end of the season, looking back at the beginning of the year, a Jazz fan could’ve pictured something more illustrious than a 30-23 record after the break.

But as of right now, only two games separate the No. 8 seed and No. 4 seed, and with the Jazz gaining steam, and more importantly two All-Stars, no team will want to play the Jazz team at full strength.

Just ask the Lakers.

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Chris Kamrani