Kirilenko looks to build on his strong start as the Jazz go for their fourth straight win as they host the Sacramento Kings on Monday.
Last season, Kirilenko averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals— all career lows. He famously broke down in tears to reporters about his diminished role in the Jazz offense after a playoff loss in Houston, then requested a trade in a blog entry on a sports Web site in his native Russia less than a month before the beginning of training camp.
Kirilenko remains with the Jazz (5-2), however, and he looks far from disgruntled. He’s averaging 10.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 2.3 blocked shots. He had 15 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in Utah’s 118-94 rout of Memphis on Saturday.
“It was fun. When we up 15-20 points I even had a smile out there. I usually try not to smile because of the concentration, you know,” he said.
Kirilenko also added four steals as the Jazz forced a season-high 25 turnovers.
“We were able to pass the ball extremely well and got our hands on the basketball,” Sloan said. “Andrei, he’s played terrific as of late. He made terrific passes and he’s played extremely well.”
Kirilenko’s teammates, some of whom were critical of his demeanor during Utah’s playoff run last season, are also glad to see more inspired play from the longest-tenured player on the Jazz.
“AK’s got a great attitude,” said Carlos Boozer, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 25.4 points and 12.6 rebounds per game. “He’s been working hard and it feels like he’s everywhere on the court.”
Utah could use similar effort from Kirilenko against the Kings (2-4), who have won four of five against the Jazz, including two of three last season. Sacramento has split its last four games in Salt Lake City, but won its previous nine games there.
Sacramento capped a 2-1 homestand with a 100-93 victory over Minnesota on Saturday. Kevin Martin, who ranks among league leaders with 28.0 points per game, had 29 on Saturday and has topped 20 in each game this season.
“In my opinion that was a must-win for us. It was very important that we win that basketball game,” first-year Kings coach Reggie Theus said. “In order to stay in the hunt for a playoff position we have to find a way to win games at home. We have to come up with something on the road but we definitely have to win the games we can win at home.”
Spencer Hawes—the 10th overall pick in June’s draft—made his NBA debut Saturday, scoring two points in six minutes.
“You really feel like you’re officially an NBA player, the first time you check in and step out there. It’s something they can’t ever take away,” said Hawes, who missed the first five games of the season after offseason knee surgery. “Now I’m just focused on contributing and getting better.”
The Kings will try for their first road victory without starting forward Ron Artest, who will complete a seven-game suspension for his role in a domestic dispute in the offseason. He will be eligible to return Wednesday against Minnesota.