ATLANTA — Talk about timing for the Utah Jazz to visit the Atlanta Hawks.
For Atlanta natives Derrick Favors and Kevin Murphy, the schedule couldn't have treated them better.
For former Hawks forward Marvin William, however, this annual trip couldn't have come at a worst time.
As for the Jazz, it's hard to determine whether it's a good time to play in Atlanta or not. Utah has won four of five games, but the Hawks are mired in a four-game slump and are, no doubt, fired up to end a four-game slump at home.
But back to the players with direct Atlanta connections.
Favors couldn't be more excited to return to his hometown for the third time in his NBA career.
"It's my mom's birthday (Friday)," he said, grinning before the Jazz's practice at UNC Charlotte on Thursday morning. "I get to go back home, see her, do something for her real quick, so I'm happy about it."
That something, by the way, does not include following the directions on a Betty Crocker box.
"My sister is going to take her out to eat. I might go home and just buy her a gift or something and spend some time with her," said the 21-year-old Favors, who tries to call his mom every day when he's away during the season. "If I knew how to bake a cake, I would."
Really? Maybe try it this time?
"I'm not going to do that," he said, laughing.
Favors then pulled another wise move when asked about his mother's age.
"She turned … 25," he said. "She turned 25."
Favors played at South Atlanta High School — about 10 minutes from downtown — and then attended Georgia Tech for a year before entering the NBA in 2010. He remembers having between 80-90 friends and family members at Philips Arena for his home NBA debut.
"My first year I was kind of nervous," he said, recalling the Nets' 116-101 loss to Atlanta in which he had four points and five rebounds as a 19-year-old on Dec. 7, 2010. "I think I had the worst game of my NBA career my first year, because I was just so nervous. I got used to it, calmed myself down, and I just come out there and play."
Though an Atlanta native, Favors grew up as a fan of the Hawks and the Lakers. But the 6-foot-10 big man had to watch from afar in his youth.
"I didn't go to no Hawks games when I was growing up," he said. "I couldn't get no tickets."
Favors finally got to attend an NBA game in Atlanta when his high school basketball team got tickets. He smiled while recalling old Hawks he liked back in those days such as Dikembe Mutombo, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Dion Glover.
Those familiar with Atlanta and Georgia Tech might find it interesting to discover that Favors is not a big fan of the legendary fast-food haunt "The Varsity" by the Yellow Jackets' campus. He prefers good old soul food, although he tries to stay away from his favorite grub during the season in order to prevent the pounds from packing on his muscular frame.
While Favors expects a group of about 20 or so to be there to cheer him on tonight, Murphy will also have some friendly faces in the crowd. Included in that group will be the wife and newborn son of the player who attended Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga.
"It's perfect timing," said the Tennessee Tech product, who was called up from the D-League on Tuesday, just in time to travel to meet up with the Jazz for this three-game road trip.
"All my family and friends was asking me whether I was going to be back in time," he said. "I kept telling them I don't know. I'm just going to wait it out. Now I'm here for the game."
Williams will also be there for the game, but he won't be able to play against the team he spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with because of right knee inflammation. At one point, he repeated the word "very" three times to describe how much he was looking forward to playing in Atlanta again.
"That's definitely frustrating," said Williams, who was traded to Utah this offseason for Devin Harris. "I kind of thought to myself, 'Of all times to be hurt, the one game I was kind of looking forward to playing, playing against my old teammates, playing back in Philips Arena.' "
Even sidelined, Williams said he'll make the most of it.
"It's definitely going to be a fun time to make a trip back. It's unfortunate that I can't play," the small forward said. "But at the end of the day, I've been around long enough to know it's about the bigger picture. I think that's what the coaching staff and the trainers are worried about right now."
Williams expressed appreciation that he was still able to travel with the team on this cross-country journey that includes this Georgia pit stop. Traveling with his new team still has its advantages even if he can't suit up.
"I'll get to see everybody once again, which will be really exciting for everybody," he said. But, he added, "It isn't what I wanted it to be."
The Jazz have multiple other connections to Atlanta. Utah coaches Tyrone Corbin (1994-95) and Sidney Lowe (1985) played for the Hawks. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley owns a home in this Southern hot spot. Former Jazz small forward Matt Harpring, now the team's TV color commentator, still lives there.
On top of that, the Hawks have two former Jazz players on their squad, including former fan favorite Kyle Korver and Harris, the other point guard in the Deron Williams deal.
All of which adds to the intrigue of this particular game.
"You want to see our guys play well in their home city or against their previous team," Corbin said. "It's a good feeling when you win a game, first of all on the road, but when you win against your former team or in your home town, it feels a little bit better."
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