Mike Ehrmann, Getty Images
ORLANDO, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz and Team Chuck attempts a shot against Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Team Shaq during the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge part of the 2012 NBA All-Star Weekend at Amway Center on February 24, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Utah Jazz slumped heading into the All-Star break, but two of the team's young stars found victory in the first event at Orlando's All-Star Weekend. As members of Team Chuck in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Utah second-year players Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward were part of a 146-133 winning effort over Team Shaq.
Both Favors and Hayward were pivotal off the bench, chipping in 14 points apiece. The duo shot a combined 10-of-13 from the field, but more than any individual numbers, enjoyed playing with each other on the elevated stage.
"It was fun," said Favors on playing with his Jazz teammate. "He obviously knows how I play. I know how he plays. We just went out there and looked out for each other. When I saw him open and when he saw me open he passed it to me."
This year, the former rookies versus sophomores game format was done away with in favor of a draft conducted by NBA legends and TNT personalities Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal. Barkley chose Hayward out of the pool of eligible players and inherited Favors as a replacement after an injury to San Antonio's Tiago Splitter.
Neither individual disappointed. Favors had a perfect 5-of-5 shooting night and Hayward had several highlight dunks. Despite the fact it was just an exhibition, each player commented on how they were not able to turn off their competitive spirits.
"It was especially more fun because we won," said Hayward. "I hate losing more than anything, even in a game like this. So, the fact that we won made it even better."
Accumulating victories is something Favors and Hayward are looking forward to doing more often in the second half of the season. Despite being in the playoff hunt at 15-17, this season has been one of inconsistency for the Jazz. The organization has experienced the high of a five-game winning streak in early January but also a pair of three-game losing skids.
An abysmal 3-11 record on the road is probably the biggest factor in the seesaw campaign. However, this "road trip" to Orlando might be just the perspective Favors and Hayward need to help turn things around in the second half.
"We've had an up and down season," said Hayward. "Right now, I don't think we are where we want to be. I think it is good for us to get this little break. Take a step back from the season and look at things that we need to improve on and hopefully change those after the All-Star break."
In addition to how the weekend may positively affect the team, it might also boost individual performances. Hayward is averaging almost double the points he did a year ago and has started every game he has played in.
He believes the confidence gained from being chosen to spend a few days around the NBA's best can only continue to help elevate his level of play.
"I think when you get selected it shows that coaches around the league respect you," said Hayward. "As a player they think you're talented enough to play in this game so it does give you something."
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With the book closed on the Rising Stars Challenge, Favors and Hayward turn their attention to their third teammate that joined them on this cross-country trip. One will not find two bigger supporters of fellow Jazz player Jeremy Evans and his quest to be slam-dunk champion.
It was even hinted at earlier Friday that Hayward might find himself a part of Evans' dunk routine. Regardless of their level of involvement, both will watch Evans with bated breath and believe he will leave with the trophy.
"I'm excited for him," said Favors. "He hasn't stopped smiling since he's been here. He was sitting behind the bench tonight just back there smiling and ready for tomorrow so I'm excited for him."