It's not going to be easy. We're a little undermanned. But it's on our home floor, and our fans will help us out, and we'll be ready to go. —Tyrone Corbin, Jazz coach
SALT LAKE CITY — Signs along Utah freeways on Sunday advised drivers to avoid trips and rush-hour traffic Monday "for better air" along the Wasatch Front.
No doubt, it'll take more than that to clear the air in EnergySolutions Arena tonight.
Utah is hosting the Sacramento Kings, which means, of course, a conflicted crowd will break out into cheers and boos whenever Jimmer Fredette enters the game against the Jazz.
If, that is, the former BYU star does enter the game.
Though Fredette is coming off of a season-high 23 minutes in Sacramento's 120-81 loss at New York on Saturday, playing time hasn't always been a given in the guard's second professional season.
Fredette, who scored 14 vs. the Knicks, has not seen any action seven times and is only averaging 14.2 minutes for one of the worst teams in the NBA.
When he has gotten onto the court, the 6-foot-2 sharpshooter has lived up to his name from long range as he's hitting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc this season (and 42.2 percent overall).
While playing 4.4 fewer minutes than last year, Fredette has managed to average 7.5 points after scoring 7.6 ppg as a rookie. In the past 10 games, however, The Jimmer is only averaging 4.6 points on 36.8 shooting and 13.6 minutes.
That hasn't helped him find steady playing time in Sacramento coach Keith Smart's rotation, though.
It's an interesting time for Fredette to return to Utah, where he became an NCAA legend for his sensational offensive outbursts with the Cougars.
While Fredette hasn't yet found a niche in the NBA, the Jazz just got more than their fill of another recent former Utah college player who is making a splash in the league so far.
Portland rookie Damian Lillard averaged 24.5 points and 6.5 assists against Utah in a weekend split between the Jazz and Blazers. The former Weber State standout, overshadowed by Fredette in the state during their college careers, made a convincing Rookie of the Year case just against the Jazz.
"I think he's continuing to grow every night he steps on the floor," Corbin said of Lillard. "He looked good for them."
While comparing the contrast between Fredette and Lillard is an interesting topic for local sports fans, the Jazz have more important matters on mind.
Utah hopes to get back on the winning track after losing a short-handed game against the Blazers, 105-99, Saturday at the Rose Garden. The Jazz, who'd won nine of 12 games prior to that stumble, have three straight home games this week. Two of the ESA contests are against likely Eastern Conference playoff-bound teams — Milwaukee (25-21) and Chicago (29-18) — so that puts extra emphasis on getting a victory against this 17-32 Sacramento-for-now squad.
"Absolutely, absolutely. We lost one here. We want to continue to take care of our home business," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, whose team has a 17-5 record in Utah. "We are in a dogfight for playoff positioning and we want to make sure that we take advantage of our home court."
The Jazz will likely have to do it at less than full strength. Mo Williams is out for at least two more weeks following his thumb surgery. Sixth man Gordon Hayward (sprained right shoulder) and backup point guard Earl Watson (stress fracture, right leg) are both listed as "doubtful" by the team for tonight's game.
Even when injuries aren't a factor, the Jazz have had recent struggles against the Kings, too. The Jazz lost at SleepTrain Arena, 108-97, in their most recent meeting, and Utah barely escaped with a 104-102 win at ESA on Nov. 23. The two teams split last season's four-game series.
"It's not going to be easy. We're a little undermanned," Corbin said. "But it's on our home floor, and our fans will help us out, and we'll be ready to go."
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