SALT LAKE CITY — For a couple of teams with only 19 wins apiece, there sure are some intriguing storylines heading into tonight’s matchup between the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics.
Here’s a look at some of the hot topics at today’s shootaround, which included Derrick Favors' injury, the Butler reunion between Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens, and Boston's Kelly Olynyk on the Stocktons:
— Center Derrick Favors wil start after missing the past three games with a sprained right hip. He particiapted in shootaround and felt good enough to be reinserted into the lineup. The Jazz certainly can use his help, considering they’ve lost three in a row without him and are 0-9 when he hasn't played this season.
“It feels a lot better,” Favors said about his hip, adding he’s spent a lot of time resting and receiving treatment.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said Favors "looked good" while working out Sunday and during this morning's shootaround.
The Celtics will be without center Jared Sullinger (concussion), guard Avery Bradley (ankle) and center Vitor Faverani (knee). Point guard Rajon Rondo will play.
Utah will go with a starting lineup that includes Favors, Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Richard Jefferson and Marvin Williams. The Jazz are 19-36 overall, but have gone 16-9 when that unit starts.
— The biggest side story of the night is the reunion between former Butler University guys Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens, the Celtics coach. Hayward led the Bulldogs to the 2010 NCAA championship game while being coached by Stevens.
“It’ll definitely be weird still just because I had so many games where he was my coach. Especially when you run past him when you’re in the game and he’s calling out different things, that’s the weird part because I’m used to looking over at him,” Hayward said. “But it has been four years. I’m happy for everything that he’s done and I’m excited for today to compete against him again.”
— The fourth-year Jazz shooting guard and Stevens, hired by Boston last July, went to dinner in Salt Lake City on Sunday night.
“We caught up, mostly just about life, not really about basketball that much,” Hayward said. “We did talk about the ejection (Saturday in Sacramento). I had to give him something-something about that. It was just good catching up with him, good seeing him.”
— Hayward laughed when asked about Stevens’ ejection.
“He said, ‘No comment on that one.’ He didn’t think it was necessarily the right thing,” Hayward said. “I told him if he wants to get ejected tonight that’s fine too.”
— Stevens on Hayward as an NBA player vs. a Butler player:
“He’s so much stronger. He’s so much more diverse in his game, both offensively and defensively. In college, his freshman year, we had him guarding point guards, because he wasn’t strong enough to guard on the interior. In the second year, we had him guarding fours, because he was strong enough. He was so bright he could help us in our rotations on the backline.
“Now I’m watching him guard twos and threes, and in this league those are some of the best players (and) he does so at such a high level.”
Stevens continued to praise Hayward’s offensive improvement.
“Offensively he can do so much more than he can do with us,” he said. “Obviously, his game’s grown tremendously. They’ve done a great job here with him and he’s really continued to grow.”
— Stevens on returning to EnergySolutions Arena for the first time since 2010 when Hayward-led Butler beat No. 1 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 seed Kansas State in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four:
“When I walked in, it gave me chills because (it was) one of the greatest sporting moments that I’ve ever been a part of certainly,” Stevens said. “Even more so maybe than the next year because it was such a new experience for all of us to come in here and beat a No. 1 seed, a No. 2 seed and then go back home to a Final Four.”
Stevens recalled not even being upset by a long delay at Salt Lake International Airport.
“We were on the runway (and our) plane got delayed by about three hours getting out of here and it didn’t matter. It could have been delayed for two days and none of us would’ve cared.”
— Hayward has only shot 30 percent while averaging 11 points over the past 12 games in one of the longest slumps of his NBA career. Uncharacteristically, he hurried out of the locker room Saturday night before media had a chance to ask the team captain about the Jazz’s 121-104 loss to Minnesota.
“Yeah, a little frustrated,” Hayward said when asked about leaving early following his 2-for-10 shooting, five-point night. “I’ve been frustrated. I just got in the gym yesterday again and I’m just going to try to work my way out of it.”
Stevens was asked how Hayward handled slumps at Butler.
“He gets a chip on his shoulder and plays really well,” Stevens said. “I hope it’s not tonight.”
— Because of Sullinger’s injury, Jazz point guard Trey Burke and the Celtics' big man will have to wait for their first showdown on opposite teams. Burke was out with a broken finger when the teams played Nov. 6 in Boston. The two were teammates at the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star Weekend.
— This is also the first return visit to ESA for Boston rookie Kelly Olynyk, whose Gonzaga squad, a No. 1 seed, was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round here last March.
“When I walked in here, it looks all different because of the Jazz court. It felt like a different building, to tell you the truth.”
— Olynyk said he’d hear Jazz stories “all the time” from David Stockton, his teammate and son of Hall of Famer John Stockton.
“It was pretty cool hearing his stories, whether they were from the Jazz, the Dream Team or All-Stars. He’s got a lot of them.” Olynyk’s favorite?
“He used to tell me that he and his brothers would be Rollerblading around the arena (then the Delta Center), down the ramp, and he crashed into a vending machine and it broke his collarbone. It’s pretty funny.”
John Stockton didn’t think so. As the legendary story goes, the Jazz point guard was not thrilled to be pulled out of practice to attend to the painful tomfoolery.
— Olynyk on having John Stockton around the program to support his sons and the Zags:
“He was around here and there. He was always willing to help if you were seeking it. I would talk to him whenever I had the chance. He’s such a wealth of knowledge. Anything you could pick his brain with is pretty special. He’s been around the game so much. He just knows the game so well, playing however many years he did here, playing how many ever All-Star games, Olympics, Dream Teams. He’s been through it all.”
— Olynyk finished with this gem of a description about Stockton: “He’s just like a big pool of knowledge and hopefully you get a chance to dive into it.”
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