Just when he was settling in ...

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2011 - 6:55 PM

Al Jefferson has seen his coach and point guard depart in his first season with the Jazz. But the team is still in the playoff hunt.

Utah center Al Jefferson (25) scored 36 points against New York on Monday and followed that up with a 34-point effort against Toronto on Wednesday. Those are his top two scoring games of the season.

Photo: Bill Kostroun, Associated Press

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When the Timberwolves traded Al Jefferson to Utah last summer, he seemingly traveled from five consecutive losing seasons in Boston and Minnesota to one of the league's most stable franchises, a winner that offered a Hall of Fame coach and an All-Star point guard.

Strange how things turn out sometimes ...

In the weeks since the Jazz and Wolves last played in Salt Lake City, Sloan suddenly, shockingly quit after 23 years on the job.

Thirteen days later, Utah traded Deron Williams to New Jersey before Williams had the chance to walk away as a free agent in 2012.

"A lot of changes," Jefferson said before practice Thursday. "A lot of changes."

So much for stability ...

"I never imagined Coach Sloan leaving," Jefferson said. "By the time I even accepted that or got over that, I looked up and that big trade went through."

And just like that, Jefferson and the Jazz have gone from a team certain to make the playoff to one that is chasing Memphis and Phoenix for the Western Conference's final playoff spot.

"I feel for him," Timberwolves forward and former teammate Kevin Love said. "I'm still happy for him because they're still winning ballgames, but he's had a lot happen to him. Just within the last year -- moving from here to Utah, Coach Sloan is gone now, the trade of Deron Williams -- a lot has changed for him."

The Jazz traded Williams to the Nets for rookie Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, two future first-round picks and cash. Williams' absence has thrust Jefferson center stage: He is averaging 28 points a game since the All-Star break, best in the league, along with Miami's LeBron James.

"You know, we got some good pieces back for that trade," Jefferson said. "We just have to use what we got to get to where we need to be. Trading a guy like Deron, everybody has to step up, including me. It's time for all of us to pull together because it's not time to go against each other.

"The crazy part about it is, we've been through rough times but we still have a shot and we've just got to make the best of it."

The Jazz trails Memphis by a game and a half for the West's final playoff spot entering Friday's game against the Wolves at Target Center. That's where Jefferson will encounter his former teammates and Love's 52-game double-double streak, the NBA's longest since the league merged with the ABA in 1976.

"Consistent, man, that's all I can say," Jefferson said about Love's play and that streak. "He deserves to break every record he can make with those double-doubles because that's amazing. That's why it hasn't been done since the great Moses Malone and all those guys who did it back in the day. For him to do that now in this day and age is amazing."

Jefferson occasionally referred to Love as his "son" during their two seasons together with the Wolves, and Love has referred to the "tough love" he received from a veteran player who he once likened to an older brother.

"We still keep in touch, we're always texting each other," Jefferson said. "He texted me before we got blew out against New York, so I hope he don't text me no more before games. Bad luck."

In that case, maybe Love should shoot his friend a text message shortly before Friday's game, Jefferson's second trip into Target Center since last summer's trade.

"Right now it's just business, we need to win," Jefferson said when asked about his emotions coming back to Minnesota the second time. "I remember when I was with the Timberwolves and teams came in needing a win, we used to call ourselves the spoilers. I know they're looking to do that to us."

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