Utah Jazz: Friendship — and fine play — continue for Gordon Hayward and Paul George
SALT LAKE CITY — Hoops fans in the Hoosier State — and there are a few of those — might want to search for one particular gym next summer.
Depending on the day, the marquee match-up on an Indiana hardwood will be similar to the entertaining duel that was on display Saturday night in the Jazz's thrilling 114-110 overtime victory over the Pacers.
It will be Mr. Butler Gordon Hayward vs. Indiana's new All-Star sensation, Paul George.
Hayward and George fondly talked about those offseason workouts this weekend — the Jazz player when congratulating the recognized Eastern Conference All-Star reserve a day from afar after that announcement was made, and the Pacer forward when returning the praises of his fellow 2010 draft classmate when his team visited Utah the following day.
"He's a great player and very talented," Hayward said Friday. "I get a chance to work out with him in the summer. I'm just extremely happy for him. It's cool to see guys from your class become All-Stars."
George smiled when asked about those summer showdowns in Hayward's home town.
"That's the time when we go at it — when we're working at it in the summers," the Pacer small forward said. "He's a competitor. So am I. It's just great basketball. I enjoy the match-up with Gordon."
Hayward's latest meeting with the guy picked one spot behind him in the 2010 NBA Draft had sweet and sour moments.
The Jazz's standout sixth man, the No. 9 pick three years ago, had a variety of sweet offensive moves and put heavy pressure on George, the No. 10 selection, as the Pacer misfired on a game-tying 3-point attempt late in overtime.
"It's always good to beat the Pacers. They're a good team. They play well," said Hayward, who struggled (2-for-6 shooting, five turnovers) against his childhood team in Utah's 104-84 loss in Indiana last month. "This was a big-time win for us."
On the sour side, Hayward also shot 5-for-12 and committed three of his six turnovers in the final 21 seconds of regulation, helping Indiana force OT. Even worse, he injured his right shoulder while fighting through a pick late in the game.
Hayward was diagnosed with a grade-one shoulder sprain. Though X-rays were negative, it's uncertain whether he'll be available for tonight's game against the Houston Rockets.
Missing Hayward would be a big hit for the Jazz (24-20), who are one spot ahead of the Rockets (24-22) in the bottom of the Western Conference playoff standings.
The third-year pro is having his best month of the season, having averaged 14.5 points and shooting 47.1 percent from 3-point range while helping the Jazz go 9-3 in January with his steady production off the bench.
The way Hayward has played, George wouldn't be surprised at all if the two are facing each other in an All-Star game one of these years.
"I think his time is coming very soon," said George, who scored 23 points Saturday.
That wouldn’t be the only thing they have in common.
After finishing their college careers as Bulldogs — Hayward with Butler; George with Fresno State — the two 6-foot-8 players became friends after signing with the same agent and crossing paths along the pre-draft tour three springs ago.
"Through that, we kind of gained a relationship, even dating back going through our workouts," George said. "We always had a pretty cool relationship. I always was a fan of his game. I think we play similar. He has a unique game that I like. I mean, it's just great."
George, who was on the USA Select Team last summer with Hayward, was appreciative that the Jazz player was excited about the Pacer becoming an All-Star, having picked his game up in the absence of injured Indiana standout Danny Granger.
"I'd be in the same position if he was named an All-Star. I'd be happy for him," George said. "He's just a good friend of mine."
George, the first All-Star to be selected from the Class of 2010, said it's fun to watch guys who entered the league at the same time, like Hayward, have success so early in their careers.
"I feel like we had a pretty good draft class with a lot of guys that had talent. It's good to see those guys have impact and really contribute on their team and be a focal point on their team," George said.
"They say the NBA is a fraternity, but I think draft class is even more of a fraternity. Everybody's pulling for one another in their draft classes."
As for Hayward, he's even more motivated seeing George get recognized by NBA coaches.
"It motivates you," Hayward said. "You want to be an All-Star in this league, so when you see guys who are already doing it, you've just got to put in that much more work to try to get there."
Hayward does have one bit of a bragging right over George.
In his first pro game in Indiana, Hayward made the home crowd, with many fans sporting No. 20 Jazz jerseys, explode when he soared and strongly dunked over George for his only points of his rookie trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse as an NBA visitor.
Hayward acted almost embarrassed when it was brought up. He cracked a slight smile and humbly said, "Just a dunk."
It might happen next in some random Indianapolis gym this summer.
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