SALT LAKE CITY — Usually right before Jazz practice, as the players warm up and the media are allowed to talk to players, Gordon Hayward is off to the side shooting by himself or with fellow rookie Jeremy Evans, while the veteran players put up with interviews from the media.
On Wednesday morning, Hayward only made it a few feet onto the court before being surrounded by a horde of cameras and reporters anxious to ask him about the night before.
It was Tuesday night in Los Angeles that Hayward had a coming-out party of sorts, leading the Jazz to a most unlikely victory over the Lakers while outplaying the great Kobe Bryant in the process. Hayward not only outscored Bryant, but hit the winning free throw and played tough defense in the final seconds when Kobe couldn't even get a shot off.
"It was fun," Hayward said. "When we play together as a team and share the ball and help each other defensively and rotate, we can be pretty good."
Hayward did all of the above and his individual line was his best of the year with 22 points of 9-of-14 shooting from the field, six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin was thrilled with the victory after eight straight losses and was especially pleased with the rookie from Butler.
"Gordon has been working hard all year long," Corbin said. "His body's gotten better and he's learned how to pick his game up on the floor and has been focused on getting better. He's been doing it all year long and now he's seeing the result of his efforts."
Hayward acted a bit sheepish when it was suggested that he outplayed Bryant, especially at the end when he drew a foul on a drive and then stayed down on Bryant's fake and helped cause a turnover.
"He's a great player, so you just have to try to contain him and take him out of what he likes to do," Hayward said. "It was cool playing against him, though. He's a guy you grow up idolizing and to be out there competing against him was fun."
After the game, Bryant praised Hayward, saying, "I'm very fond of him. … He's going to have a very bright future in this league."
Hayward had seen the comments and said, "Coming from a player like that, it's pretty cool for him to say that."
When asked if he'd turned the corner as an NBA player, Hayward said "I'm just trying to be a little more aggressive. Playing with confidence has helped me out for sure, and I'm just going out there and playing my game and not thinking too much."
In making nine shots, Hayward nearly equaled the total number of made shots his former Butler team did in the entire game the night before in an ugly loss to Connecticut in the NCAA title game. Hayward said he was not trying to make up for his former team's ineptitude.
"I was glued to the TV, and it was tough to watch," he said. "I wanted those guys to win so badly. I was proud of how they played all season and then to go out there and miss shots … some days they're falling and some days they're not. I felt bad for them."
Hayward, who has started several games for the Jazz this season, came off the bench Tuesday, and Corbin indicated he would probably do the same for tonight's game with Portland, backing up C.J. Miles. Paul Millsap will likely play the small forward spot and rookie Derrick Favors will start at the power forward position.
"We'll have to see what the rotation is and what will give us the best chance," Corbin said. "(Hayward) will play (a lot of) minutes though."
HARRIS READY TO GO: After missing seven games, Jazz point guard Devin Harris is ready to get back on the floor and expects to be playing tonight when the Jazz take on Portland.
"As long as I don't have any setbacks, I plan to play tomorrow," Harris said Wednesday.26 comments on this story
"It's been pretty frustrating — it's not a fun thing to do, especially when you're not winning many games and you can't come out and help," Harris said. "But I'm feeling better now and looking forward to getting back out there."
Corbin for one, will be glad to get Harris back.
"It's going to be another body and give us a point guard who's a veteran guy who knows how to play in this league," said Corbin. "Earl (Watson) has done a tremendous job. Devin will be a great addition to have back and he'll be able to give us some good minutes."
Four injured Jazz players — Andrei Kirilenko, Raja Bell, Ronnie Price and Kyrylo Fesenko — are not expected to play.