LOS ANGELES — Gordon Hayward isn't just getting mop-up minutes in the fourth quarter anymore.
In the past two games — both close contests that came down to the final couple of possessions — the Utah Jazz's No. 9 pick has been on the floor for the entire fourth quarter.
The results for the rookie — and the team, for that matter — were mixed..
Hayward played quite well in his late-game, 12-minute stint at Minnesota, where he scored the victory-clinching dunk and free throw in that comeback.
And Hayward struggled a bit to fit in the flow of the offense Monday, missing all four shots in the home loss to Portland.
But the message from coach Jerry Sloan was clear: His trust in Hayward continues to increase.
"He played well the other night (in Minnesota) and deserved to play more than what I played him," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said following Utah's 96-91 loss to the Trail Blazers. "I thought he did fine."
Sloan maintained that stance at practice Tuesday after watching film of the Jazz loss.
"The biggest thing," the Jazz coach said, "is he went after the basketball."
It's possible Hayward could return to the starting lineup tonight at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Part of the reason he played so many fourth-quarter minutes Monday was because Andrei Kirilenko left in the third quarter with a strained lower back. The Russian small forward did not practice Tuesday and is doubtful to play against the Clippers.
Sloan didn't say what his starting lineup plans are for tonight, but he did compliment the way Hayward has come along in his rookie season.
"I think he's progressed very well," Sloan said.
Hayward has rated consistently well on the Jazz's defensive numbers all season, Sloan added. Though Monday's game was one of Hayward's lower nights, the Jazz coach said he likes that the rookie keeps working and trying. He is impressed that Hayward stays between his man and the basket and how he gets over screens.
Hayward, who seemed invisible in three starts earlier this month, is grateful Sloan has given him two prime playing opportunities in a row.
"It is a little confidence booster," the ex-Butler standout said. "It's upsetting that we didn't win the one last night, but you've just got to be ready on the bench. When he puts me in I just try to play hard."
NINE MORE YEARS? Mehmet Okur played at home Monday for the first time after his eight-month rehab for his ruptured left Achilles tendon. And the 6-foot-11 center all but admitted he won't be asked to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest anytime soon.
"I'm not an above-the-rim guy," Okur said. "When I was 18, I was. Now I just play my basketball, shoot Js, post up down there a little bit and try to play good defense. I've never been the guy who can jump so high, dunk everything."
Despite suffering a devastating injury that required his first surgery, and a biggie at that, the 31-year-old remains optimistic that he can stay in the NBA for quite a while doing what he does best.
"As long as my shooting touch (is) there," Okur said, "hopefully I'm gong to play until I'm 40."
INJURY UPDATE: Unlike Kirilenko, point guard Deron Williams is expected to play tonight after spraining his right wrist in the fourth quarter Monday night. Williams practiced Tuesday and used few words to describe his wrist's status.
"It's cool," he said.
Kirilenko did travel with the team, which also plays Thursday night in Portland.
D-WILL ON HAYWARD: Asked about Hayward's progress, Williams spoke positively about the rookie. But the team captain, who caught heat for throwing a fastball at his young teammate earlier this season after the rookie ran the wrong play, also offered some constructive criticism.
"He's come a long way," Williams said. "He's working hard every day, getting better, learning."
And the room to improve part?
"Just getting that confidence to go out and be aggressive," Williams said. "I think he's passive at times and wants to just kind of fit in, but he needs to take control of his game."
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