Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward practices, prepares for possible Tuesday return
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward isn’t sure when he suffered the hip injury that kept him out of practices and games for a week and a half.
One day he was having a career night against Oklahoma City, scoring 37 points, pulling down 11 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in a 112-101 win.
The next day, he felt fine while participating in a light practice and lounging around. Two mornings after, the shooting guard felt muscle-strain soreness from a left hip flexor.
Two weeks later, Hayward hopes to be able to play again Tuesday night against Minnesota after missing five consecutive games. He’s still listed as a game-time decision against the Timberwolves, who manhandled the poor-shooting Jazz 98-72 Saturday at the Target Center.
“It’s frustrating,” Hayward said of the injury situation Monday morning during his first interview with media since getting hurt. “They (training staff) want to make sure it’s 100 percent right before they have me playing. As a competitor, you want to just be out there, but you’ve got to let it heal.”
Hayward has spent a lot of time receiving treatment from trainers and doing rehab with strength coaches the past two weeks. He went through his first basketball workout Sunday and his first full practice Monday, so he can’t wait to suit up for real again.
Whether he’ll be able to do that depends on how he responds after Tuesday’s shootaround.
“It’s difficult. You feel like you’re not doing anything. You’re just standing around,” Hayward said. “At times, you feel like you’re not even really a part of the team because you’re not going through practice, you’re not playing with them.”
His coach and teammates, however, continue to anticipate his return.
“We need him,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Corbin said Hayward will likely start when he returns, and shooting guard Alec Burks will probably return to his sixth-man role. When asked if he’d consider pairing them up in the first unit, Corbin responded, “Not right now.”
“He’s our leading scorer, another big playmaker for this team,” Jazz forward Marvin Williams added. “So getting him back and having him healthy would be key for us. Hopefully, he comes out and has a great practice (Monday) and hopefully he responds well (Tuesday).”
A silver lining to the injury is that it gave Hayward some rest time. A couple of weeks ago, the NBA’s SportsVu data showed that he had run more miles during games than any player in the league.
Having down time to get re-energized was not much of a silver lining. While talking about that, Hayward also teased his friend of four years, Jazz forward Jeremy Evans, for his comment in the locker room Saturday in Minnesota.
“Jeremy said I was on vacation. Man, he’s supposed to be my boy,” Hayward said, laughing. “You’ve got to be able to take some good with the bad. I did get a little bit of a rest. Everything else in your body gets to recover, too
“As a competitor it still sucks,” he added. “You still want to be out there.”
The timing was bad, considering Hayward had finally worked his way out of a long shooting slump. In his three January games leading up to the injury, Hayward averaged 27.0 points, 60.4 percent shooting, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
“It definitely adds to the frustration,” Hayward said. “It would’ve been frustrating either way, honestly. I was playing well. I was able to watch film, learn from the sideline. Hopefully, I can continue where I was at.”
Hayward had started all 37 games before being sidelined. This is the second-longest absence he’s had in his four-year career. Last season, Hayward missed 10 straight games with a shoulder injury.
“Players like to play. You hate to miss,” Corbin said. “He was trying to get back out there. I don’t think he enjoyed sitting out.”
The Jazz captain credited his understudy, Burks, for filling in for him. Burks had a career-high 34 in Utah’s win over Denver a week ago Monday and averaged 18.8 points as a starting shooting guard.
“He played really well. It’s good to see him out there kind of putting in some of the stuff he works on in practice and everybody else gets a chance to see it in the game,” Hayward said. “So hopefully he can continue to play where he’s been playing. He’s been playing at a high level for us, and we need that.”
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