SALT LAKE CITY — Finally, some good news is starting to surface in Jazzland.
Apparently, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
After missing the last 15 games with a sprained PCL in his left knee and a bone bruise in his tibia, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert is probable to return for Friday’s game against the New York Knicks at 8:30 p.m. in Vivint Arena.
During his most recent absence, the Jazz went 5-11 without him on the floor. Utah (18-26) is coming off a much-needed 120-105 win Wednesday in Sacramento behind 34 points from rookie guard Donovan Mitchell.
Gobert was initially cleared to participate in non-contact practice drills on Sunday and was spotted working out at the Jazz’s most recent shootaround Golden 1 Center.
After an All-NBA season last year, the Frenchman has missed 26 total games, where the Jazz have gone 11-15. Earlier in the year, he sat out 11 games with a right tibia contusion.
Gobert’s mere presence gives the Jazz a boost. “The Stifle Tower” is a shot-blocking machine who averages 2.3 swats with 11.6 points and 9.6 boards in his 18 games this season. He finished runner-up to Golden State’s Draymond Green in the Defensive Player of the Year race last season.
While Gobert is expected to return, Jonas Jerebko is questionable with back spasms.
Veteran forward Thabo Sefolosha is likely out for the season after his recent knee surgery and Dante Exum is targeting a return after the All-Star break as he continues to rehab from left shoulder surgery.
Frustration has certainly mounted with all the injuries, trade rumors, tough opponents and losses. The victory in Sacramento came at the perfect time with the Jazz tying a season-high after shooting 56.8 percent from the field.
Losing is never easy.
“Badly,” Mitchell said on how much the team needed a win. “We’ve been working so hard while going through such a tough stretch and to get a win like this is definitely big-time.”
Mitchell recorded his fifth game of 30-plus points with three monstrous dunks. He connected on 14 of 19 shots for the highest field-goal percentage (.737) in a 30-point performance by a rookie guard in nearly eight years, per NBA.com/Stats.
He also joined Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, and Shaquille O’Neal as the first rookie to reach five 30-point games in the last 30 seasons, via Elias Sports.
“He’s young, that’s not to diminish the fact that he’s had some really good games,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “He played very well offensively, but there are a number of things on the defensive end that he’s going to hear about.
“So, he’s got to keep getting better in every aspect of the game,” he added. “That’s what he wants to do and we’ll keep coaching him that way.”
Defense is where Gobert can certainly help the team. The Knicks (20-25) are also looking to get on the right track after dropping four of the last five games.
New York fell to Memphis on Wednesday, 105-99. Former Jazzman Trey Burke is also set to make his return as the newest member of the Knicks along with Jazz legend Jeff Hornacek, New York’s head coach.
With Gobert returning, the Jazz — currently in 10th place of the Western Conference standings — are looking to make a playoff push.
“I think we’ve been bringing effort,” Snyder said.