3 Jazzmen happy to be playing in Orlando

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23 2012 8:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — There hasn't been much to cheer about lately for the Utah Jazz.

With Wednesday night's disheartening 100-98 defeat at Minnesota, the Jazz have lost three straight and eight of their last 10 games going into the annual NBA All-Star break.

But perhaps Jazz fans can set those frustrations aside for a few days and find a reason to cheer on a couple of their own during All-Star Weekend in Orlando, Fla.

Utah's young duo of 6-foot-8 swingman Gordon Hayward and 6-10 forward/center Derrick Favors will play in the 2012 BBVA Rising Stars Challenge that tips off tonight at 7 p.m. MT. The selection of Hayward and Favors marks the first time since 2008 that the Jazz will be represented in the annual game that features first- and second-year NBA players.

Favors was added to the Rising Stars roster on Tuesday after San Antonio's Tiago Splitter dropped out due to an injury.

"I think it shows that the Jazz have some young talent," said Hayward, who's averaging 9.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in his second season with the Jazz. "And it's great that D-Fave's gonna be able to go, and it'll be cool to be just out there representing the Jazz."

Many NBA players look forward to the annual All-Star break as a chance to take some time off, catch their breath and get re-energized for the second half of the season. And that may be even more true in this condensed NBA season.

But Hayward's happy to be spending his "off" weekend in Orlando.

"You only get this opportunity your first two years in the league," he said, "so I think you've got to be excited about being able to play and represent your team.

"It's still going to be relaxing. It's still going to be fun. We still get the time off, but we get to play basketball while we're at it. It'll be fun."

Favors, who has averaged 8 points and 5 rebounds a game as the primary backup big man to starting center Al Jefferson and power forward Paul Millsap, was pleased to be added to the lineup that's playing for "Coach" Barkley against a similar squad coached by legendary NBA big man Shaquille O'Neal.

"I'm excited just to go out there and be in front of that crowd and be a participant in that game," Favors said. "I'm proud, and it'll be good to be going to play with someone who's on your team and be comfortable out there."

Favors, too, would much rather be playing in tonight's game than sitting home watching it on TV.

"I would rather play in a game," he said. "We're young, but you want to play in those types of games. I guess when you get older, you'd probably say I want those days off. I just want to take advantage of it, go out there and have some fun and just play."

One of their Jazz teammates, forward Jeremy Evans, will compete in the All-Star weekend's annual slam dunk contest on Saturday.

And Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin is like a proud papa, glad to see some of his young guys get an opportunity to participate in such a high-profile event.

"You know what, it's a great accomplishment for the guys," he said. "When we talked in the beginning about individual accolades, if we do the right thing as a team then the recognition will come. And I think the guys have done that.

"It's great to see three of our young guys get an opportunity to go down there and experience the All-Star Game, the All-Star Game atmosphere, even though they're not in the big game this year. It's a great representation of who we are and what we're trying to do, and it's a great accomplishment for each of those guys going down and taking part of something special."

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