CLEVELAND — Even after suffering a 25-point loss to the Miami Heat.
Even after returning from a four-game absence with a sore left Achilles tendon, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Rodney Hood’s face lit up once his former Utah Jazz team was mentioned during his postgame interview on Wednesday night.
“A lot of those guys over there are like family,” Hood said of the Utah Jazz roster. “I wanna bust they a-- but it’s all fun and games.
“We’re not in the same conference or nothing like that, so one game doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it’ll be fun just to go against them,” he added.
Hood will get his chance, alongside his former Jazz teammate Alec Burks, this week in Cleveland when the Cavaliers host the Utah Jazz on Friday, Jan. 4, at 5 p.m. MST in Quicken Loans Arena.
Burks and Hood both started for the Cavaliers in the most recent 117-92 loss to Miami. Hood ended with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting in his 25th contest scoring double-digits this season, while Burks put up nine points and three boards in 27 minutes.
Despite the latest outcome, both are certainly excited to face this next challenge in their first career games against Utah.
“It’s going to be like practice used to be, that’s how I feel like it’s going to be, so we shall see,” Burks said, smiling. “We’ll see what happens.”
Burks has been with the Cavaliers for a little over a month since being traded for Kyle Korver and two second-round draft picks in late November. He actually learned the news ahead of the Jazz’s road game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Nov. 28 before it became official on Nov. 29 once the physicals were cleared.
A highlight of Burks’ brief Cleveland tenure includes a game-winning dunk at the same Brooklyn arena where he learned he had been traded, just a few days later on Dec. 3.
“I understood it. I didn’t want to be mad about it, but it happened,” said Burks, who spent part of eight seasons as a Jazzman after being drafted 12th overall in 2011. “I’m glad for that opportunity that the Jazz gave me, and I’m here now.
“I learned professionalism. Everything is run tip-top over there, and I learned a lot that way and became a man out there,” he continued. “I got drafted at 19 and I’m 27 now, so just that.”
Teaming with Hood has been reminiscent of their locker room days in Salt Lake City, according to “A.B.”
Burks is averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists while Hood is putting up 12.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists for Cleveland. Their chemistry has been on point despite the Cavaliers’ dismal 8-30 record.
“He’s one of my good friends that I always had and just to have him here, a familiar face has been good for me, and I’m sure for him being traded and having somebody that can show him some stuff here,” Hood said of Burks.
Cleveland coach Larry Drew has recognized that Burks is effective in the open court and Hood likes to shoot pull-up jumpers inside the mid-range area, so he’s trying to put them in positions to be successful on the court.
“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t give it a lot of thought prior to us getting Alec, but then once he got here it was like, ‘Oh, wow they did play together in Utah,’” Drew admitted. “But both guys have been really together.
“You can tell that they enjoy playing off of one another,” he added. “They both bring a unique energy, and I can tell they enjoy playing together, and that’s just a situation that I’ll try to continue to strive on and allow them to be themselves.”
Hood was dealt to Cleveland ahead of last season’s trade deadline on Feb. 8, 2018, in a three-team deal that also involved Jae Crowder. However, he is still close to his former Jazz teammates and they stay connected through a group chat.
“It’ll be fun getting a chance to play against some of those games,” Hood said. “Some of those guys I came into the league with, and it’ll be fun to talk a little trash and try to get a win.”
Hood was drafted by the Jazz in 2014 with the 23rd pick, spending four seasons with the franchise before finding his new home, so when Burks was traded to Cleveland, it was easy to help him adjust after going through the process first. Hood has already experienced his fair share of ups and downs, including an NBA Finals appearance last season alongside LeBron James.
“It’s been some tough times and it’s been some great times, but it’s really made me better for the long haul,” Hood said. “I think my best days are ahead of me.”2 comments on this story
Another thing that Burks and Hood are doing is to help groom rookie point guard Collin Sexton much like they did with Donovan Mitchell last season. Sexton’s face is plastered on a huge Mountain Dew ad near downtown as he entered the year with much expectations as the eighth overall pick out of the University of Alabama.
Sexton is averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists through his first 37 games in the NBA, but continues to draw wisdom from the ex-Jazz members.
“Rodney, that’s my guy. So, he just talks me through it, tells me to be patient and everything’s going to work out,” Sexton said. “Pretty much we talk about off the court stuff as well as how to be prepared before the game and stuff like that.
“Rodney’s a good guy, him and Alec, so I know it’s coming from a good place.”