SALT LAKE CITY — The injury-plagued Utah Jazz enjoyed a very welcome sight in Thursday's team practice session at Zions Bank Basketball Center.
Derrick Favors was back. Well, at least it looks that way.
Favors, the 6-foot-10 power forward who was Utah's second-leading scorer and rebounder last season, had been missing in action for more than three weeks due to IT Band Syndrome, which causes ligament inflammation and subsequently limits lateral movement in his left knee.
But after sitting out the team's last four preseason games and their regular-season opener on Tuesday, Favors participated in a full practice Thursday and may be able to return to the court Friday night when the Jazz face the Los Angeles Lakers in their 2016-17 home opener.
"Happy to be back," Favors said with a smile as he addressed the assembled media following Thursday's practice. "I felt good, I felt good. It was good just to be able to get back on the court and go through a full practice, be back out there with my teammates. ... Felt great out there."
However, just because he practiced, there's no guarantee Favors will be able to actually suit up and play against the Lakers at Vivint Arena.
"We'll see how it feels (Friday)," he said. "... I wouldn't say I'm at a hundred percent now, but I think I'm at a point now where I can tolerate it and kinda play through it without it aggravating me too much.
"We'll wait and see how I feel (Friday). I'll talk to the training staff again and talk to probably coach, too, and just see how it feels and we'll go from there."
On a team which is already without its leading scorer and best all-around player, Gordon Hayward (broken finger), as well as key reserve Alec Burks, Favors' return to the lineup couldn't come soon enough.
"Just to have him go through a practice," third-year Utah head coach Quin Snyder said with relief. "It's not so much what you've seen or haven't seen, it's that he hasn't been able to practice. He seemed like he was energetic, and he got to practice because he's doing better physically.
"... Fav has started for us for a long time, and to have to bring him back in and even if he's rusty, you know, it's good to have him back."
Favors admitted that being stuck on the sidelines while the training staff tried to help him get his ailing knee healed up was difficult because he wanted to be out on the court.
But while he's eager to return, he also realizes that it was necessary not to rush back out there too soon.
"I am (anxious to play) because I'm a competitor," he said. "But at the same time, you've gotta be smart. It's a long season — 82 games — so you've gotta be smart with it.
"Me being the competitor, I wish I was out there to help 'em, but right now I can't. But everything's been positive. The guys are playing hard, the chemistry's coming, and I think everybody looks good."
One sure sign that he's on the mend is that he blocked a shot by veteran forward Joe Johnson during Thursday's practice.
"He looked great," said Johnson, who poured in a team-leading 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting in Tuesday's 113-104 season-opening loss at Portland. "Actually he blocked my shot one time, so I'm kinda got my feelings (hurt) about that."
Favors described the play in which he stopped Johnson, a seven-time NBA All-Star, on a drive to the basket.
"It was kind of a one-on-one iso(lation) type thing, and he got me with a good move out on the perimeter and I heard a lot of oohs and aahs on the sideline," Favors said. "So I just had to get him back for talking.
"It was the same play — he got me with a nice little crossover, and on the sidelines I heard the oohs and aahs — so he went in and tried to lay it up, and I handed it back to him."
Johnson, in his first season in Utah, was pressed into the starting lineup due to Hayward's absence and did an outstanding job. All he did was come out and shoot the lights out, just like he has throughout his 15-year NBA career.
"He was one of the guys we were asking about how we were gonna integrate him (into the lineup) before the last game," Snyder said, "so he figured out how to integrate.
"... I don't think that's something he's gonna do every night; no player does that. But we got a taste of how he can provide a steadying influence on offense. The thing I'm happy with is you watch the film on him, and he's playing defense."
As for tonight's matchup with the Kobe Bryant-less Lakers, who won their own season opener Wednesday against Houston, Snyder knows they're a young team with a lot of talent.
But these early season games are more about the Jazz learning to play together and defending, and less about their opponents.
"They've got three of the top six picks the last three years in the draft. That kinda says they're pretty good and young," Snyder said of the Lakers. "A new team that's trying to get a fresh start in some ways with a new coach. Obviously Luke (Walton's) a friend of mine and I think a lot of him as a coach and as a person. They're talented.
"I think these games for us right now are so much more about us. We have to make sure that we can control the things we can control. ... It's more about us coming out and executing on defense, not giving them easy baskets, making them earn things like we did the other night.
"If you'd have told us that we'd be plus-1 on Portland with three minutes to go, when they're 13-of-19 from 3 and we're playing without Derrick, Gordon and Alec, I don't know who wouldn't take that," he said. "But that doesn't make you feel any better (about losing), so hopefully we'll be in that same position and come out on the other side against the Lakers."
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