SALT LAKE CITY — The Reunion Tour continues for the Utah Jazz.
Before their Christmas break, the Jazz caught up with Kosta Koufos and Sundiata Gaines in Minnesota on Wednesday. Also while in the Twin Cities, former T-Wolf Al Jefferson reacquainted himself with his old teammates and community.
Tonight, Utah can put out the "Welcome back" mat for the traveling team, which has been gone for two weeks, and for a pair of returning players — Mehmet Okur and Wesley Matthews.
Okur's sprained right ankle has improved over the past week, so the 6-11 center will see action for the first time in front of Jazz fans at home since the final game of the 2009-10 regular season.
"I'm playing, yeah," Okur said Sunday as the Jazz reconvened after a day off. "I'm excited. It's been eight months and I just want to go out there and play hard. Could be 5, 10 minutes, whatever minutes. I'm playing."
Okur last played in Utah during a 100-86 blowout loss to Phoenix on April 14. Three days later, the big man ruptured his left Achilles tendon, which required surgery and eight months of rehab.
The 31-year-old returned for the first time this season on Dec. 17 in New Orleans, exactly eight months after his injury occurred. Three nights later, however, he sprained his other foot in a pregame workout.
Okur then missed two games because of the mild sprain. Although it frustrated him, Memo said he didn't lose much fitness from this week layoff. He practiced with the team both Friday and Sunday, and will not be listed on the injury report for tonight's game.
"I wasn't really in basketball shape anyway, so I feel about the same," Okur said. "I've got healthy and right now I feel good and hopefully I'll be back, I mean basketball-wise, soon."
As for Matthews, this will be the second-year guard's first NBA appearance in Utah that counts since the Jazz were eliminated by the Lakers in Game 4 last May.
C.J. Miles predicts Matthews, who played in a preseason game here in October, will receive a warm welcome despite being on the visiting team.
"They love Wes. Everybody loves Wes," Miles said. "I don't think there was any hard (feelings). It wasn't like he wanted to leave. ... I think the fans were grateful for what he did here."
Portland was simply in a better financial situation to pay (overpay?) Matthews as a restricted free agent following his breakout rookie season with Utah.
"They offered him a lot of money," Miles said of the Trail Blazers, who signed Matthews to a five-year, $34 million deal. "He understood that we didn't have the money to match it and we had to let him go. Nobody wanted to."
Matthews is averaging 15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 30.5 minutes for Portland. He contributed 9.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg and 1.5 apg and worked his way into a starting role as a rookie in Utah. His shooting percentages have dipped slightly, however. Last year, Matthews hit 48.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from 3-point land compared to averages of 46.9 percent overall and 36.5 percent on 3s this season.
"He's playing great this year," Jazz point guard Deron Williams said. "It's going to be fun to play against him and (we) wish him the best except against us."
Matthews started in Brandon Roy's place and scored 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting in his first outing against the Jazz this season. But C.J. Miles hit 7 of 10 3-pointers and led Utah to a 103-94 comeback win at the Rose Garden on Nov. 20.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, a big fan of Matthews' grit, work ethic and all-around play, said the team can't allow itself to have second-thoughts of whether or not it should've matched Portland's pricey offer sheet.8 comments on this story
"You can't play that way. It's like if you let something that's happened in the past get under your skin, it's probably going to stay under there," Sloan said. "The only thing you can do is go play and wish him well. We liked him and that's the way it is."
Tonight will also be the Jazz's first game at EnergySolutions Arena since it beat Golden State here 108-95 on Dec. 13. Utah then went 3-1 on its annual pre-Christmas road trip, getting blown out by New Orleans, 100-71, but proceeding to win at Milwaukee, Cleveland and Minnesota.