SALT LAKE CITY — Happiness is … having a couple days off during a grueling NBA season.
And the Utah Jazz, having finished up their difficult back-to-back-to-back road trip on Tuesday, relished the opportunity to actually have two days to recover, regroup and get their legs back before Friday night's home game against the Washington Wizards.
"I didn't realize how tired I was until that third game, man," said Utah center Al Jefferson, the team's leading scorer and second-best rebounder.
"It seems like my legs was heavy, but these two days off really helped.
"We had a good practice (Thursday), and I got some rest Wednesday. I slept all day; I didn't wake up for nothing. It was good to get that rest."
Utah coach Tyrone Corbin, knowing that his team was exhausted after going 1-2 on its three-games-in-three-nights trip to Memphis, New Orleans and Oklahoma City, realized the importance of giving his guys something they won't see very often during this condensed NBA schedule: a day of rest.
And no, it wasn't on Sunday.
"After the back-to-back-to-back, the first day off (Wednesday) we just kind of took off and then (Thursday) we worked a little bit," he said. "You know guys are tired, and I understand that.
"We talked about, you know, everybody's tired, we've just got to make sure we do whatever we can to get our energy back up to be ready to finish up before the All-Star break (next weekend). The guys were good (Thursday) and I expect them to be great (Friday)."
And sure enough, they were, waxing the Wizards 114-100 — and it really wasn't that close — at EnergySolutions Arena.
That'll definitely bring a victory-hungry team some happiness, too.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: Corbin is being cautious with his players' minutes, knowing full well his team is getting worn out both physically and mentally.
"There's a lot of fatigue from the physical play of so many games in such a short amount of time," he said. "We played 25 games and then we have a back-to-back-to-back which kind of compounds the fatigue that you're already feeling.
"And now you've got four games in the next 6-7 days before the All-Star break, so we've got to make sure we give ourselves an opportunity to recover but also give ourselves a chance to stay sharp and get better at the things that we've been struggling at the last 10 ballgames."
BUTLER DID IT — TWICE: Utah's second-year swingman, Gordon Hayward, got a chance to see his college teammate, Wizards rookie guard Shelvin Mack, on Friday.
Hayward and Mack led unheralded Butler University on a memorable run to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament two years ago.
Hayward was just a sophomore when he averaged 15.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game during the 2009-10 season and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional played at EnergySolutions Arena.
And in the title game against Duke, his last-gasp, half-court shot at the final buzzer nearly went in, which would've given the underdog Bulldogs a stunning national championship in their first-ever Final Four appearance.
Last year as a junior, Mack led Butler to a repeat performance in the NCAA tourney's title game, as he was the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer (16.0 points per game), third-leading rebounder (4.5) and led the team in assists (3.4).
Asked after Friday morning's shootaround if he was planning on having a mini-reunion with Mack before the game, Hayward said he was.
"I think we might go out to lunch," he said. "So it'll be good to see him."
And, asked if they might dine at the Olive Garden, Hayward's well-documented favorite place to eat on the team's road trips to New York City this season and last, Hayward said probably not.
"Naw, not Olive Garden," he said sheepishly.
Although Hayward will have bragging rights following Friday's win, neither one of them could talk too much smack afterward. Hayward had five points, two assists, a rebound and a blocked shot, while Mack managed three points, two assists, a rebound and a steal. Between them, they shot 3-of-12 from the field, including 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
A LITTLE 'D' MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE: After giving up 111 points to Oklahoma City in Tuesday night's lopsided loss, Jefferson said the team's defensive effort definitely needs to get tougher. And it should be a focal point for their ballclub every night, he said.
"There should be no reason why you don't play good defense," he said. "I think our problem is we let our offense dictate our defense, and it should be the other way around. We should let our defense dictate our offense.
Meaning like, basically get stops and then we need to get out and run.
"When we get stops, our point guards do a good job and our wings do a good job of running the floor, running wide, and we get layups. And that's how it should be instead of worrying about making or missing our shots, and then when we miss, not getting back on defense and giving the other team a chance to score."
NO SCORE TO SETTLE: Veteran forward Josh Howard spent last season with Washington, when a torn ACL in his left knee and subsequent soreness and tendinitis limited him to just 18 games.
He signed with Utah in December and, after the one-time All-Star (2007 with Dallas) emerged as a key member of the Jazz bench brigade early this season, he denied that he'd have any extra incentive to show the Wizards what type of player he can be when healthy.
"It's just another game," he said following Friday morning's shootaround.
"We need to get a win more than me worrying about getting payback or anything like that. And it wasn't any payback, you know, I signed as a free agent here, so hopefully it's my decision to come back here."
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