Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz lineup got a little more pep in its step Friday night when backup point guard Earl Watson returned to action for the first time this season.
Watson wound up playing nearly 10 minutes in Friday's 104-102 comeback victory over the Sacramento Kings.
The spunky 6-foot-1 guard, who's in his 12th NBA season, had not played yet this season and last stepped on the floor in a game for the Jazz in April. That's when he suffered an injury to his right knee, which subsequently required surgery and ended his 2011-'12 campaign prematurely.
Watson has been working out with the team since training camp began and this week was finally cleared by team doctors to see some playing time in a game. He'll share the backup point guard spot with Jamaal Tinsley behind starter Mo Williams.
"It's another asset for us," Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin said before Friday's game with the Kings. "He's a different kind of point guard who's a little faster than Jamaal. They all three will play.
"We've got to find a way to keep them all fresh and we'll integrate Earl back into it as we go forward here. He's limited with the amount of minutes he can play in a row. We'll try to get him on the floor tonight for a few minutes and then see how he responds on the flight (to Sacramento for tonight's back-to-back matchup with the Kings).
"All the guys are playing well, so we'll just have to try and make it work," said Corbin, whose advice to Watson was "'just be ready.' ... He understands completely where things are ... how many minutes that will be, we'll see. We need to keep Jamaal fresh because if something happens and Mo's in foul trouble and somehow we need a guard to play extended minutes, Earl is not there yet. So we need to keep Jamaal fresh until (Earl) gets up to speed and we'll see where things go from there."
Williams rolled his ankle in the first quarter of Friday's game, and Watson wound up entering the contest with 8:41 remaining in the second quarter. Watson picked up two quick personal fouls in little more than two minutes, but he still managed to hand out two assists and grab a couple of rebounds in 9:33 of playing time.
Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said the addition of Watson to the lineup adds another dimension to Utah's attack on both ends of the floor.
"Earl has experience in the system, being here the last two years," Hayward said, "and he definitely pushes the ball up the court and plays extremely hard, especially defensively. He forces a lot of turnovers and he brings a lot of energy, so it'll be good to have him back."
Last season, Watson averaged 3.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 20.7 minutes of playing time per game in 50 games for the Jazz.
Hayward was asked to compare Watson with Tinsley, who has served as the primary backup point guard behind Williams in Watson's absence.
"They both do good things," Hayward said. "It's a little different, I think. Jamaal is a little more — I don't want to say slower, because Jamaal pushes the ball up the court really well, too, and makes good advance passes — but Earl is a little more up-tempo defensively, getting into people, and Jamaal is good at weaving in the lane and creating passes that you don't think could get through."
NBA SCHEDULING QUIRK: The Jazz, given three full days off between Monday's homecourt victory over the Houston Rockets and Friday night's game against the Kings, turn right around and face the Kings again tonight — in Sacramento.
"This is my ninth year in the league, man, and this is like my fourth, fifth time doing it," Jazz big man Al Jefferson said of the back-to-back, home-and-away matchup with the Kings, "especially last year with all the lockout going on and everything. So I'm not surprised."
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