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."
Third-year Jazzman Hayward said it was awfully nice, though, having three days off — something that seldom happens during the course of any NBA season, and never seemed to happen during last year's condensed, lockout-shortened season. And getting the elongated break over the Thanksgiving holiday made it even sweeter.
"Last year we would've had two games by now," Hayward said. "It was good to have a little time off for the holidays and give people some time to spend with their families."
SIZING UP THE KINGS' BIG MAN: Jefferson was asked his assessment of Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' leading scorer (16.6 ppg) and rebounder (10.0 per game) who has caused the Jazz plenty of problems in the past — not only with his strong play, but with some of his overly aggressive antics that were aimed primarily at then-Jazz starting point guard Devin Harris.
"I think DeMarcus Cousins is very talented and I've got mad respect for him for a young big man," said Jefferson, who didn't see any need for any extracurricular activity involving Cousins, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound man-child who's in his third NBA season and recently turned 22 years old. "We're on the court to play basketball. This is the greatest job in the world and it's a blessing to be out here playing it. So I really don't have time for all that other stuff. Me and him have always had a great relationship, so I'm not looking forward to none of that.
"He's a guard trapped in a big man's body, if you ask me. The way he dribbles the ball and uses his guard skills, he's very challenging on the block. He shoots very well and he passes the ball very well for a young big man. He's a talented guy.
"The way to go at him is attack him on the other end, try to get him in foul trouble. Once he gets in foul trouble, I think it kind of takes him out of his game a little bit," Big Al said. "But I've got to come with my shoes laced up tonight. I've got mad respect for him and I think that he most definitely can be a superstar in this league."
Jefferson and Cousins virtually neutralized each other Friday night.
Cousins finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in Friday's game, but he did commit four turnovers.
Jefferson wound up with 17 points, eight boards, two assists and a blocked shot — but he did not commit a turnover. Most importantly, though, he outplayed Cousins down the stretch, scoring five of his seven fourth-quarter points during a four-minute stretch of Utah's 21-7 closing run.
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