It had been two weeks since Nolan Smith played meaningful minutes for the Trail Blazers, and for many of us, it would have been fine if it was the last time he was allowed to touch the ball.

It was six games ago. Against Milwaukee. In 2:37 of action, the Blazers point guard made three turnovers. All of them hideous. Two of them before he crossed midcourt. During that 2:37, the Blazers were outscored 17-0.

I wondered at the time if it would be the last time Smith would play for the Blazers while a game's outcome was still in question. And until Saturday, he had seen action in only three more games - all of them at the end of blowouts.

So understand, then, the uneasiness Smith must have felt Saturday when he saw first-quarter action in an important division game against Utah. Not only that, 18 seconds into his shift, he threw a crosscourt pass that was easily stolen by Randy Foye.

He looked to the bench, expecting to see an angry coach Terry Stotts, cheeks and forehead crumpled, face reddening.