SALT LAKE CITY — After Monday’s loss to Indiana, Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell addressed the media while sitting in his locker room next to injured center Rudy Gobert.
One of the questions asked was, “What is missing from this team defensively?”
“This guy for starters,” Mitchell said, pointing to Gobert.
But that’s about to change as the 7-foot-1, Frenchman is set to make his return in front of a national ESPN audience at 8:30 p.m. tonight against the New York Knicks in Vivint Arena. He will be on a minutes restriction but is likely to start.
“It’s been tough, I had to be patient but finally the day has come,” Gobert said.
Gobert has missed the last 15 games with a sprained PCL in his left knee and a bone bruise in his tibia after clashing with teammate Derrick Favors on Dec. 15 in Boston.
He also missed 11 games earlier in the year with a right tibia contusion.
After suffering two knee injuries, Gobert has a new way to protect himself.
“I’ll play with my elbows out,” Gobert said, laughing.
Gobert averages 11.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in the 18 games he has played after his All-NBA Second Team nod in 2017, where he led the league in blocked shots. His teammates will certainly have to adjust to having him back on the floor, especially in pick and roll situations.
“For me, I’ve just got to play my game, don’t overthink it,” Gobert said. “I’ve been thinking too much sometimes and I’ve just got to play my game and let them find me.”
Welcoming him back to the lineup will certainly provide a lift to the team after Monday’s 120-105 victory in Sacramento as Jonas Jerebko is questionable with back spasms and Dante Exum (left shoulder) and Thabo Sefolosha (right knee surgery) are both out.
Behind the scenes, Gobert worked extremely hard to get back on the court, with a big thanks to Mike Elliott, Utah’s vice president of performance health care, and his training staff.
“It’s good to get him back and there’s kind of an integration process when they’re coming off an injury, but obviously Rudy’s a key guy for us and we’ve been playing without him for a while so it’s good to have him back,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said.