Jefferson, Jazz ready for leap to postseason
There was a time when Al Jefferson was overwhelmed, struggling
through a fitness evaluation program just months after his 2010
trade to the Utah Jazz from Minnesota.
”He really got his butt handed to him,” said Marcus Elliott,
who runs the specialty P3 camp in Santa Barbara, Calif. ”I don’t
think he enjoyed any minute he was with us. Of all the athletes, he
was the one who battled it the most.”
Jefferson, however, made a second go at the program last
offseason – on his own during the NBA lockout – even relocating to
Santa Barbara for an extended period so he could put in the
The eighth-year pro wanted to be able to defend stronger, jump
higher and stay healthy – rededicating himself with the goal of
returning to the playoffs for the first time since his rookie
One win against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night and the Jazz
will be in.
His teammates want it as much for the big guy as Jefferson
Even certain opponents find it hard to root against him.
”I think he deserves it,” said Orlando Magic center Glen
Davis, a fellow southerner who has battled Jefferson since their
AAU days. ”People underestimate the guy. People look past him. But
he’s a great player.”
Jefferson leads the Jazz in just about every statistical
category – points per game (19.4), rebounds (9.6), minutes (34.4)
and blocks (1.68) – and his shooting percentage (.494) lags just
slightly behind the two youngsters he is mentoring: Derrick Favors
and Enes Kanter.
He even made his first career 3-pointer this year, the night he
fought back tears after losing his grandmother.
The 27-year-old Jefferson ranks second among NBA centers in
scoring behind only Orlando’s Dwight Howard, who won’t be available
for the playoffs or London Olympics following back surgery for a
Overall, Jefferson’s numbers are the best since he tore his
right ACL midway through the 2008-09 season with Minnesota, which
acquired him in July 2007 from Boston in the Kevin Garnett
”Normally at this time of the season I lose my strength,” said
All the offseason work has helped him stay strong.
Saturday’s overtime victory against Orlando marked his 30th
double-double of the season, with a key block and rebound down the
stretch as well as the game-tying 12-footer with 21 seconds left in
In overtime, he scored Utah’s first points with a nice spin move
around Davis, and set up the clinching 3-pointers when he was
”He’s our go-to guy,” point guard Devin Harris said. ”He
demands so much attention. Everybody’s talking about my 3-point
shooting, but he’s a big part of that because of the double teams
Five days earlier, Jefferson fueled Utah’s triple-overtime
victory over Dallas. He scored 28 and tied a career high with 26
rebounds – the third-most in franchise history and most since the
team moved from New Orleans in 1979.
He showed off power moves inside and soft jumpers, and had two
blocks, a steal and an assist.
”He played a gazillion minutes,” Jazz strength coach Mark
McKown said of Jefferson’s 54 minutes vs. Dallas. ”And he was
In Santa Barbara last year, experts fixed biomechanics that were
making Jefferson more prone to injury, speeded up his second jump,
improved his standing vertical 4 inches and boosted his lower-body
power. Overall, it was a big difference from that first session,
when jumping up to a 24-inch box looked so daunting for Jefferson,
Elliott was almost afraid to watch.
Last offseason in Santa Barbara, the 6-foot-10, 289-pound
Jefferson was able to leap onto 48-inch boxes.
”There was no way that was in the realm of possibility when we
first saw him,” Elliott said. ”He really was pretty beat down
with that first experience. (Last year) he was hungry. He always
That’s especially true now, with two games remaining in the
regular season, including the huge game against the Suns.