SALT LAKE CITY — Paul Millsap and Wesley Matthews spent one season (2009-10) together as teammates with the Utah Jazz before Matthews received a rich free agent offer from the Portland Trail Blazers and bolted the Beehive State for the greener pastures of the Pacific Northwest.
But the two of them have remained good friends since then, and they always enjoy it when they get a chance to play against each other.
That happened Friday night, when the Trail Blazers came to town and dropped an 86-77 decision to the Jazz in the teams' first meeting of the season. And it'll happen again tonight when the two teams tangle in Part 2 of their back-to-back battle in Portland, Ore.
Millsap and the Jazz certainly got the better of this first matchup. Millsap scored eight first-quarter points on his way to 15, while Matthews wound up with nine points before rolling his ankle with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter. He had to be helped off the floor and did not return.
Millsap maintains great admiration for Matthews' work ethic and unyielding tenacity.
"This guy never quits," the Jazz forward said of the Trail Blazers' 6-foot-5 shooting guard, who averaged 6.2 points per game in his one season with the Jazz, when he played in all 82 games and started 48 of them — not bad for an undrafted rookie — and came into Friday's contest averaging 15.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
"He's one of those guys who works hard, extremely hard. He never gives up. He never says die. He's a great teammate and I miss playing with him, but he's on the opposite end of the stick now and you've got to go at him."
However, as much as Millsap likes and admires Matthews, one thing the Jazz power forward refuses to do is get into a trash-talking tussle with his former Utah teammate.
"It never dies down, especially with a guy like Wes," Millsap said Friday morning following the team's shootaround. "I think everybody knows him. He's gonna get out there and he's gonna talk. He's probably gonna send me a text before the game, things like that.
"When he's trash-talking to you and you go back at him, it kind of does something for him. So my main thing, I learned, don't say anything back to him. Let him sit there and talk to himself, really.
"'I'm gonna go right at you guys tonight,' things like that," Millsap said of what a typical text from Matthews might look like. "But it's all in the fun of it. No texting back, either. He gets mad when I don't do that, so you can never do right with him."
BLAZERS BACK-TO-BACK: Since the Blazers are chasing the Jazz in the Western Conference standings, trailing Utah by 2 1/2 games entering tonight's game at Portland, these two matchups shape up as key midseason contests between the two playoff contenders.
"Every game's important," said Utah center Al Jefferson. "If you want to beat them and get to the playoffs, every game really counts, so this is our first opportunity against them this season and we've got to really try and take advantage of it. And I'm sure they're thinking the same way."
Teammate Marvin Williams agreed.
"They're huge. They're huge games for us," he said of the back-to-back games with Portland. "It's almost like a four-game swing if you play your cards right. So the most important thing is to take care of business (Friday) and then we'll figure out (Saturday) tomorrow."
HAYWARD STILL OUT: For the third consecutive game, Gordon Hayward was again a spectator Friday night. The third-year shooting guard, who averages 13.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, suffered a sprained right shoulder in a victory over Indiana last Saturday and hasn't played since.
Hayward was asked to assess his shoulder situation following Friday morning's team shootaround.
"Getting better," he said. "It's getting there, slowly but surely, just getting treatment nonstop and trying to get back. ... There's certain movements I still have problems doing, just the pain, and until those are gone then I'll be able to get back out there."
A NEW ATTITUDE: Asked what's been the highlight of his season so far, Millsap pondered the question for a moment and then gave a reflective answer.
"Just coming into 2013, coming into this new year with a different attitude, both personally and as a team," he said. "We've got a different attitude coming into 2013 — win at all cost.
"Everybody has a different attitude. Everybody's more committed when they're on the floor, and it's just a winning attitude and it's contagious."