Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin arrived for practice, took one look at the larger-than-normal media gathering and immediately wondered if the most famous player in BYU history was returning to EnergySolutions Arena for an encore.
“What, is Jimmer in town?”
The answer to that, of course, is no. Jimmer Fredette and the Sacramento Kings won’t be in town Friday night. That would be John Wall and the Washington Wizards.
Fact is, however, the Jazz have lost seven of nine, are reeling from their toughest stretch of the season and are facing an important four games leading into the NBA All-Star break next weekend.
“It’s an important four games, no doubt,” Corbin said. “We have to make sure that we don’t back into the All-Star break. We want to be playing well going into it.”
An above-.500 record after next Wednesday would be cause for encouragement, while limping into the break would be a major cause for concern.
The schedule isn’t light, either. Utah is favored by 9 against a Wizards team weary from a prolonged Western Conference road trip, but Houston and San Antonio will each be favored against the Jazz, and a road game against the Kevin Love-led Timberwolves isn’t the cakewalk it used to be.
Getting better, getting a little rest and finding the confidence that led to a 9-4 start are priorities this week. Beating the Wizards qualifies as a must.
“We have to shake off the road trip and do the things that made us successful in the first place,” swingman Gordon Hayward said. “We just have to focus on the next game. Washington is a tough team, so we need to be ready to play.”
On Friday night, Hayward will face off against his former teammate at Butler, Shelvin Mack, a reserve guard for Washington. This is the first time the two will play against each other as professionals. But matchups at the Indianapolis pro-am and open gyms at Butler were wars, according to Hayward.
“We really go at it,” said the second-year starter. “He’s very competitive, and so am I. It will definitely be good to see him. I’m excited.”