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Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward not buying a 'rookie wall'

Published: Sunday, Jan. 16 2011 11:09 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward, at right, blocks a shot by Manny Harris of Cleveland as the Utah Jazz face the Cleveland Cavaliers in NBA basketball in Salt Lake City, Utah Friday, Jan. 14, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

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Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward is officially in uncharted territory.

Utah will play its 41st game of the season when it faces the Washington Wizards on Monday morning, and it is already the most games Hayward has played in during a season. He played in 38 games last season, leading Butler to a 33-5 season and a berth in the NCAA title game.

"That seemed like it was forever," Hayward said.

Imagine how it must feel for Hayward now with the season being at its midway point. There is still a lot of basketball to be played with a division title race looming with the Thunder in the second half of the season, as well as the playoffs.

Hayward said he's handling things well at this point.

"It's a job," he said. "You got to kind of treat it like work. That's the weird thing. In college it was kind of a job because they're kind of paying you with scholarship money, but at the same time after the game you got to come back and do homework and all that stuff. It's different after the game (now), you just go back and eat and sleep and get up and do it again."

It's a job Hayward wouldn't trade for any other.

"I'm blessed to be able to do it," he said.

It would be reasonable to think that now is about the time Hayward starts hitting the rookie wall. Hayward said he answered the same questions when he was a freshman at Butler, and it's not a concept he buys into. It's obviously an adjustment to play basketball as much as he is now, but he says no imaginary wall will stifle him.

"The fact that the games are just back-to-back-to-back," Hayward said is the biggest adjustment to playing in the pros. "That's what's good about the NBA is that you lose and have a bad game, you go back and play right way. On the other end, you have a good game and there's no time to celebrate."

OKUR PROGRESSING: Jazz center Mehmet Okur didn't shoot the ball well in his second game back from a lower back strain against the Cavaliers on Friday night, making just 1 of 7 shots from the field. But he contributed in other ways, including tying Al Jefferson for a team-high seven rebounds.

"He's coming along just fine," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "I don't get too involved with it. I just ask him how he's doing. We're going to try and play him and move him along as we can and still try to be cautious about it. (Trainer) Gary (Briggs) keeps us posted about what's going on."

STEELER PRIDE: Surely one of the happiest people in Utah about the Pittsburgh Steelers' 31-24 win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC playoffs on Saturday was Jazz guard Deron Williams. Despite growing up in the Dallas area and being surrounded by Cowboys fans, Williams is a diehard Steelers fan.

"Not too many Steeler fans in my household," Williams said. "(They're) all Cowboy fans. All my friends are Cowboy fans. Half of this team is Cowboy fans."

That left Williams on the receiving end of some ribbing when the Steelers lost to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX when he was in middle school. That was the game where quarterback Neil O'Donnell infamously threw two costly interceptions in the second half, at times when Pittsburgh had the heavily favored Cowboys on the ropes.

"Point shaving, man," Williams said perhaps jokingly but maybe not. "I think they need to go back and put him in jail — Neil O'Donnell."

DOWN TIME: The Jazz will be on the East Coast all week with road games against Washington, New Jersey, Boston and Philadelphia. That'll leave them with time to kill when they aren't playing, practicing or shooting around.

Surprisingly, the Jazz say being on the road isn't all that different from being at home.

"Internet, TV, talk on the phone, handle business deals," said Jazz guard Earl Watson of how he spends his time on the road. "Nothing changes. It's just a different location."

Hayward said he likes to Skype, play computer games and watch movies while on the road, and that he's looking forward to the long trip.

"I think it's going to be fun," he said. "You go on these trips and get to go to these new cities and stay in these really nice hotels, (ones) I'm not used to staying in."

e-mail: aaragon@desnews.com

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