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  • The Utah Jazz will be without key reserve Gordon Hayward tonight. Hayward suffered a right shoulder sprain while running through a screen by Indiana’s David West on Saturday night. It’s a big loss for the Jazz as Hayward is averaging a career-high 13.5 points and is the player who makes Utah’s second team go. Hayward is also usually on the court during crunch time in the fourth quarter. It’s the first time Hayward will miss a game since his rookie season. “We use him a lot on the second team especially, putting the ball in his hands to make plays for himself and the team,” said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. “He creates pace for us.”
  • With Hayward out of the lineup, more minutes will go to second-year guard Alec Burks. Many Jazz fans haven’t been happy with Burks’ lack of playing time for much of the season, but he will get a chance to contribute tonight. “It’s one of the great things about this league — guys are in and out of the lineup, guys are hurt and somebody else has to step up,” Corbin said. “We feel great about the guys on the team and it’ll be an opportunity for some guys to get more minutes on the floor.”
  • Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale had words of praise for Jazz leading scorer Al Jefferson, who he coached in Minnesota early in Jefferson’s career. He said Jefferson was a good teammate in Minnesota and that he can see his game rubbing off on Utah’s younger players. “Al’s a great guy,” McHale said. “If you’re innately a good person, you’re normally a good teammate. He’s been a great guy since I’ve known him. He’s got a very unique game so it’s very hard for Al to teach it. Great guy, great teammate.”
  • Jefferson’s weaknesses throughout his career have been his defense and passing. McHale, however, has seen improvement in both areas. “Defensive improvement –that wouldn’t have been hard,” McHale joked. “I’m just kidding, Al. Al’s got a good feel for the game. (As for passing) Al had a good theory. He’d say, ‘Why would I pass it to somebody who’s going to miss it a lot more than I do?’ Well, he had a good point there.”
  • A key for the Rockets tonight will be their spacing. They’re coming off a game in which it was outstanding in a 119-106 win over the Brooklyn Nets. “Spacing is being patient, hopefully having an understanding that the ball will come back to you,” McHale said. “If you cut and move, it helps everybody. Our spacing has been good at times. We’re the type of team that we got to play with pace and space.”

Andrew Aragon

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