SALT LAKE CITY — For the third consecutive game, Gordon Hayward will again be a spectator tonight when the Utah Jazz play host to the Portland Trail Blazers at EnergySolutions Arena.
Hayward, the third-year shooting guard who averages 13.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, has missed Utah's last two contests after suffering a sprained right shoulder in a victory over Indiana last Saturday.
Hayward was asked to assess his shoulder situation following Friday morning's team shootaround.
"Getting better," he said. "It's getting there, slowly but surely, just getting treatment non-stop and trying to get back. ... There's certain movements I still have problems doing, just the pain, and until those are gone then I'll be able to get back out there."
BLAZERS BACK-TO-BACK: After tonight's game, the Jazz and Trail Blazers turn right around and square off again Saturday night at Portland.
Since the Blazers are chasing the Jazz in the Western Conference standings, trailing Utah by 1 1/2 games entering tonight's game, these two matchups shape up as key midseason contests between the two playoff contenders.
"Every game's important, especially this one tonight because we're getting down to the playoffs," said Utah center Al Jefferson. "If you want to beat them and get to the playoffs, every game really counts, so this is our first opportunity against them this season and we've got to really try and take advantage of it. And I'm sure they're thinking the same way."
Teammate Marvin Williams agreed.
"They're huge, they're huge games for us," he said of the back-to-back games with Portland. "It's almost like a four-game swing if you play your cards right. So the most important thing is to take care of business tonight and then we'll figure out tomorrow tomorrow."