Through the first 40 games of the season, the Utah Jazz played at a crazy pace that had them playing a game, on average, every other day.
A four-day layoff was virtually unheard of.
But for game No. 41, which features the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at EnergySolutions Arena, that’s how long the Jazz have had to rest … and practice.
“I think it was good for us to kinda get that rest,” swingman Gordon Hayward said following Saturday’s shootaround. “We’ve been going kinda nonstop. We got a couple days of practice in as well. We’ll be ready to go.”
After beating the Miami Heat on Monday, coach Tyrone Corbin gave his players Tuesday and Wednesday to unwind from a whirlwind first half of the season. But the Jazz returned to Zions Bank Basketball Center on Thursday and Friday for some tough practices.
“They were competitive, I think that’s how practices should be,” Hayward said.
Utah (21-19) sits in third place in the NBA’s Northwest Division and No. 7 overall in the Western Conference.
The Jazz actually moved up in the standings during their time off.
“We did talk about that a little bit,” Hayward said. “We played a lot of games and so it was nice to sit back and watch other teams play each other. We were able to move up because of some losses.”
One loss in particular was Cleveland’s victory at Portland on Wednesday. It, coupled with losses by Denver and Memphis, allowed the Jazz to rise in the standings.
The Cavs’ win that night was only their second in eight days and third this month.
Led by guard Kyrie Irving who averages 23.3 points per game, the Cavs (10-31) come in on a one-game winning streak. They sit in fifth place in the Central Division and No. 14 overall in the East.
Former Jazzman C.J. Miles is averaging 11.2 points as Cleveland’s starting two-guard.
“We’re just coming together, there’s a lot of youth on the team, a lot of guys getting used to playing together,” Miles said. “And a lot of guys getting used to learning how to win on this level.”
Miles has more than seven years experience in the NBA, but he’s one of nine players on the roster 25 or younger.
Irving, last season’s Rookie of the Year, is just 20.
“He’s extremely talented,” Hayward said of Irving, a teammate on last summer’s USA Men’s Select team which trained against the U.S. men’s Olympic team. “He’s fast, he can shoot, he’s got a really good handle on the ball so we have to make sure we’re keeping an eye on him and knowing where he’s at at all times.”
The Jazz are led by center Al Jefferson, who averages 17.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Forward Paul Millsap averages 14.9 points and 7.7 boards per contest.
Millsap and Miles were close friends during their time together in Utah, however, Millsap said he’ll put that aside when they meet tonight.
Asked what he’d do if Miles came driving down the lane unchecked, Millsap said it’s nothing personal, just business.
“He’s on the opposite team, he’s not my teammate no more,” he said. “I gotta do what I gotta do.”
The Jazz will be without point guard Mo Williams (thumb surgery) tonight. Cleveland center Anderson Varajao (right knee contusion) is also out.