Utah Jazz: Full-strength squad looks forward to playing together again

Published: Friday, March 8 2013 12:15 p.m. MST

FILE -- In this Feb. 27 photo, Utah's Al Jefferson and teammate Alec Burks try to defend Al Horford. Jefferson is returning to the starting lineup after missing consecutive games with a sprained ankle.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

CHICAGO — The Utah Jazz are excited to take on the Chicago Bulls tonight with their whole squad back together again for the first time in months.

No offense to Derrick Rose, but Mo Williams hopes the Bulls can't experience the same thing in this 6 p.m. contest at the United Center.

There are reports that the former MVP has been medically cleared to return to action for the first time this season. Rose had ACL surgery on his left knee last May.

"Would I love it?" Williams said at this morning's shootaround when asked if he'd like to see Rose play tonight. "Absolutely not. … Let him come back next game."

The Bulls aren't expecting Rose back until mid-March, according to ESPN.com.

The Jazz, meanwhile, are looking forward to having Al Jefferson reunited with Williams and the rest of the squad for the first time in 2½ months.

"It will be great to have all these guys back and get everybody on the floor so we can see where we are as we continue to build and grow and get used to each other," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "At this time of year, it will be great to have all of your assets that you thought you were going to have at the beginning of the year."

Both the Jazz and Bulls have lost two straight and are trying to get back onto steady ground after dealing with a variety of injuries.

"This is a tough team that's going to play hard for 48 minutes. Defensively, they're going to be up on you all night long. They're going to make you work for everything you get," Corbin said. "Offensively, they have some guys out but they're a very capable offensive team. We need a win. They need a win. So it's going to be a hard-fought game. We expect that and we're going to be ready to go."

Though he's listed as a game-time decision, Jefferson fully expects to play tonight after missing the past three games with a sprained left ankle. After the morning workout, the 6-10 center marveled at the amount of tape that was placed around his ankle.

"This is just for shootaround, so just imagine the game," he said. "It's a lot of tape. It feels like a cast."

Jefferson became accustomed to sporting a lot of ankle tape when he dealt with similar issues in Minnesota a few years ago.

"You get used to it," he said. "I used to get the famous Karl Malone tape job when I was in Minnesota when I used to have ankle problems — taped to the skin and half way up my leg. I got used to it, though."

The Jazz lost to the Bulls 93-89 in Utah on Feb. 8 despite 32 points and 13 rebounds from Big Al.

"Joakim (Noah) make me work. He's a very active guy, make me work on both ends, offensive end and the defensive end, because he you have to block him out," Jefferson said of the Bulls' All-Star big man.

"He moves without the ball very well. He's a great passer. He's just a great all-around center. I guess I know when I go against him, I've just got to step it up, so I won't get embarrassed."

Williams' surgically repaired right thumb will also be taped up with his splint when he plays in his second game back after a 32-game absence. Williams had eight points and six assists but missed a potential game-winning layup in the Jazz's 104-101 loss in Cleveland on Wednesday.

He said his thumb is "OK," and he's also excited to have the opportunity to play with all of his Jazz teammates again, including Big Al for the first time.

"It feels good. It couldn’t come at a better time. We want to have our whole team full stretch, come together," he said. "It's the end of the year. We know what's at stake, so it's good to have the whole crew."

The Jazz have fallen to 32-29 after losing five of six games. They are a half-game back of Houston for the seventh spot in the Western Conference and remain just 1½ games ahead of the surging Lakers (31-31) in the eighth spot.

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