Utah Jazz: Jazz host Nuggets in Northwest Division clash
SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward participated in some light stretches but did not practice with the Utah Jazz again on Sunday.
Planning on the injured starting shooting guard to play Monday night against the Denver Nuggets might also be a stretch.
Hayward missed Friday’s game against Cleveland and didn’t practice over the weekend because of a left hip flexor. He’s listed as a game-time decision for this Northwest Division clash at EnergySolutions Arena.
The Jazz can’t afford him to be out too long with the muscle strain.
Though Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin and his players are confident in temporary starter Alec Burks’ ability to fill in for Hayward, Corbin prefers to keep the rotation the way it has been.
For one thing, Utah’s primary starting crew of Hayward, point guard Trey Burke, small forward Richard Jefferson, power forward Marvin Williams and center Derrick Favors has a solid 11-8 record this season. That is a 47-win pace.
If you didn't do the math, the Jazz are 1-18 with the six other starting lineup combinations they've used this season.
“We’ve built a nice chemistry with them,” Corbin said.
With Hayward out, the Jazz coach added, the team is forced to “change a lot of things.”
Burks and the four regular starters have to mesh — and certainly play better than they did in Friday’s 113-102 loss to a 12-win Cavalier team. Without Burks, an already thin bench is depleted of offensive spark even more.
Corbin pointed out that the Jazz have to run different offensive sets — or at least change the frequency of running certain plays — without the versatile Hayward, who has the ball in his hands so often throughout the game.
Defensive rotations are altered because the Jazz can’t take advantage of his 6-foot-8 size, Corbin added.
“I thought we weathered the storm in the first half (Friday),” Corbin said. “Second half, we just didn’t have it.”
Case in point: Utah held a 49-46 lead at halftime against the Cavaliers, but then got outscored 67-53 in the second half en route to a blowout loss.
The Jazz struggled with the absence of Hayward and foul-plagued Burke during the game-changing stretch in the second half when Kyrie Irving sparked a 30-9 Cavs run.
"It's always difficult anytime you’re missing anyone, especially a major player with the impact that Gordon has on the game on both ends of the floor," Williams said. "You can't replace a Gordon Hayward, but Alec (16 points) did a great job."
With the athletic Nuggets in town, Corbin is wary of a repeat track meet happening.
Corbin noted a disturbing stat about Denver: The Nuggets have scored at least 60 in the first half of four consecutive games after snapping out of a funk.
“They’re fast and they’re trying to speed the game up,” he said. “That’s difficult to do (60-plus first half), so we’ve got to make sure we control the tempo of the game.”
Denver also brings a five-game winning streaking into ESA after having lost the previous eight games.
A familiar face has been playing a key role for Denver in its winning streak. Shooting guard Randy Foye, who set 3-point records in Utah last season before being traded, has averaged 18.4 points and four 3-pointers in the hot stretch. The Nuggets have scored 119.6 per outing in that period.
The Jazz took it to the Nuggets, 103-93, the last time they played a month ago at the Pepsi Center. Utah fell 100-81 to its Rocky Mountain rivals the last time they played in Salt Lake City, though.
One notable difference will be the absence of former University of Utah star Andre Miller, who scored 15 in the Nuggets’ win at ESA in November. The 37-year-old is currently on a paid leave from the Nuggets after having shouted at first-year coach Brian Shaw in a loss to the Sixers on New Year’s Day.
“It’s unfortunate for Andre. You wish him well,” Corbin said. “You just don’t want a guy that’s had a pretty good career to have it come to an end that way with something like this on the mark for him.”
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