SALT LAKE CITY — Another game, another new starting lineup for the Utah Jazz.
Another familiar face back with the team, too.
Coach Jerry Sloan announced at shootaround this morning that he will make roster hopeful Demetris Nichols and lottery pick Gordon Hayward starters for tonight's preseason game against the Phoenix Suns.
Deron Williams, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson will again round out the starting five for the 7 p.m. game that will be televised on FSN-Utah.
"Is there any significance to that?" Sloan said to reporters. "I'll let you guys answer that question."
In another development, center Mehmet Okur rejoined the team for some individual drills this morning but will not play against the Suns. It's the first time he's participated with the Jazz since he spent time rehabbing and building strength in his Achilles heel and lower body at the P3 performance training center in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Okur says he's "a lot better, stronger" but still has no timetable set for his return.
Hayward isn't getting too caught up in the hype of starting for the first time this preseason. He's averaged 7.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists off the bench in three wins.
"I think it's just another game," the former Butler star said. "I think that just says that I need to go out there and get on it from the start. You always want to start off games well."
It might not bear great significance on what the team will look like once the regular season begins in two weeks, but Sloan's lineup decision is significant for at least one person.
"I knew my time was going to come," Nichols said. "So I'm excited about it."
Quite frankly, the 26-year-old former Syracuse star, with the team on a nonguaranteed contract, is surprised that Sloan is so generous in dishing out starting opportunities. It's something the coach likes to do to both evaluate how players fare in certain situations while also giving them a chance to show other NBA teams what they can do should they not make the final Jazz cut.
Veteran Raja Bell started at shooting guard for the preseason-opener last Thursday, but rookie Ryan Thompson and former D-Leaguer Othyus Jeffers have both had cracks at the spot, too.
"I love it," Nichols said. "I'm very grateful that we have a group of coaching staff that's like that because it gives guys a chance to play and not all coaches are like that, so I'm very, very grateful to be here."
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