NEW ORLEANS — Forget statistics and standings, the Utah Jazz’s medical report is the most intriguing aspect of this team as it begins a three-game road trip.
Two players could see action for the first time this season at some point of the Jazz’s journey this week.
Remember the 2013 NCAA player of the year from Michigan? How about the 2012 Slam Dunk champion?
It’s possible both Trey Burke, considered a Rookie of the Year candidate after the Jazz traded for him this summer, and high-flying Jeremy Evans will see limited action as early as Friday or Sunday.
Neither Burke nor Evans will be available Wednesday night when the Jazz play the Pelicans at New Orleans Arena, but both players went through a full-speed practice Tuesday for the first time since they were injured.
While that is an encouraging development, the Jazz will be without a player who's been one of their most effective in recent outings in this rematch with the only team they've beaten this season.
Forward Marvin Williams remained in Salt Lake City to undergo a surgical procedure to have his broken nose reset Tuesday afternoon. He’ll also be fit for a face mask that he’ll wear for protection upon his return.
“I’m not a big fan of going to sleep,” Williams said, “so I’m a little nervous.”
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has had big praise for Williams, who returned to the court after his nose was broken Friday against the Spurs and in the next two games.
Williams has scored double digits in three of four games and is finding a groove in his new role as a stretch four now that he’s returned from his offseason Achilles tendon surgery.
“I tell you what, he’s really embraced the role. He’s happy to be back. We’re happy to have him back. We’re going to miss him (Wednesday),” Corbin said. “It just shows his toughness, playing the last few games with a broken nose and needs surgery to be repaired and doing everything he can to help us win.”
Williams’ situation is just the way it’s gone for the Jazz this fall.
This hasn’t only been a season of rebuilding, developing and, well, losing for the new-look team.
It’s also been a season of injuries for this struggling squad.
While the Jazz decided to move toward a youth movement, letting four of their five top scorers from last year go elsewhere, Corbin’s job has been even more difficult due to medical issues. He’s been without rotation players like Burke, Evans, Williams, Brandon Rush (knee rehab) and Andris Biedrins (ankle) for various reasons. Neither Rush nor Biedrins will play Wednesday.
When asked about the ongoing short-handed situation before Monday’s 11th loss in 12 games, Corbin admitted, “I’m very anxious to get everything that we have on the floor.”
Burke has been the biggest injury absence.
The Jazz traded two first-round picks to Minnesota for the coveted point guard on Draft Day in June. The No. 9 pick, who just turned 21, was the team’s starting point guard before smacking his hand into Chris Paul and fracturing his finger during a preseason game on Oct. 12.
Point guard John Lucas III called it “a minor setback for a major comeback,” and the Jazz sure hope their veteran is right. Utah has had all sorts of problems with the playmaker position, using three different starters, signing and waiving Jamaal Tinsley, calling up Diante Garrett from the D-League and having Alec Burks play out of position.
Burke averaged 9.5 points on 33.3 shooting and 4.0 assists in his two full preseason games before going out with the injury.
Corbin has warned that it will take awhile for returning players to get up to full speed and for the team to fully mesh.
Williams is a good example. He had a rough go at first after playing for the first time on Nov. 8 since his June surgery, but he’s coming off of a season-high 16 points in Monday’s loss. He’s only averaging 7.6 points, which is rising, but he’s hit 45.5 percent from 3-point range in his seven games.
“I’ve never questioned his competitiveness for us and the fact that he wanted to do whatever he can to help us win,” Corbin said. “He’s playing well for us now. He’s playing a bigger role for us.”
As long as the Jazz are struggling and losing, however, Williams won’t be fully satisfied with his performance. He even refused to call his recent success bittersweet because of the three-game losing streak.
“There’s nothing sweet about it. I have to be 100 percent honest. I don’t even care how I’m playing personally,” Williams said. “Losing every other night is very frustrating. Hopefully we just continue to work hard and get better and kind of get off this slide.”
Williams hopes to rejoin the Jazz in either Dallas or Oklahoma City. He can’t travel for 24 hours after his surgery and his return will be dictated on his nose’s swelling and comfort levels.
“Usually I bounce back pretty quickly,” he said. “Hopefully, I do and I’ll be able to catch up with them after.”
The injury happened in the first half against the Spurs when Tim Duncan elbowed him in the face. Williams returned that night and has played with a temporary mask at times.
“Honestly, it’s kind of sucked,” he said, “because my biggest fear was getting hit again.”
That happened Monday when Warriors power forward David Lee accidentally popped him in the face.
“It probably hurt more last night,” he said, “than the first time when I actually did it.”
Williams kept playing and doesn’t plan on missing much action.
“It’s unfortunate, man. But I’ve been around long enough to know things like this happen. I know how to bounce back from them,” Williams said. “Obviously, I’ve done it with my Achilles. I’ve done it with my back before, so when I get back in I’ll just try to continue to do the things I’ve been doing.”
The Jazz can’t wait to get Burke and Evans back to doing what they do, too.
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