Earl Watson played Saturday with his right knee completely bare. No brace, no sleeve. And that was only one way in which the Jazz’s veteran point guard looked nothing like a man who was only half a year removed from major knee surgery.
“I’m feeling more and more comfortable,” Watson said. “My rhythm is coming back.”
In Saturday’s 108-97 loss at Sacramento, Watson, 33, played 17 minutes, scoring six points, distributing five assists and tallying four steals. It was a big step for Watson, who eased back into the game one night earlier playing 10 minutes, which left him frustrated and wondering who was making the decision.
“It’s not my call not to play extended minutes,” he said. “I don’t know who it’s coming from. I was just told my minutes would be 10 minutes. As far as physically, I feel like I can play more because I practice.”
Watson made his case at Sleep Train Arena, and the Jazz (7-7) may need to call on him immediately. Mo Williams did not play on Saturday due to a right foot injury, and it is unknown how long he is out. With Jamaal Tinsley in the starting lineup, Watson is the Jazz’s only other true point guard.
“[Williams] is the starting point guard for us, so anytime you have a key guy out we miss him,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “The guys stepped in and did a great job, both guys.”
While Watson recorded a solid night, Tinsley scored 14 points, making four 3-pointers in a game for the first time since 2007.
While Tinsley has proved adept at delivering the ball to teammates and getting the Jazz into their offense, Watson is quicker defensively.
However, Corbin said he was not yet ready to lift restrictions on Watson, sticking to his tradition of bringing injured players — such as Raja Bell and C.J. Miles last year — back slowly.
“I have to talk to the doctors to see where we are,” Corbin said.
However, for Watson to be given nearly twice as many minutes on the back end of a back-to-back as on the front can only be a good sign for his future with the team.
“Earl played a little bit more minutes than he probably should have tonight,” Corbin said. “But I thought he looked good, he said he felt good. So we left him out there a little longer to get some minutes on the floor.”
With Watson on the floor in the first half, the Jazz outscored the Kings 27-22 and led 43-38 when he departed.
At one point, Watson went hard to the hoop and ended up in a heap behind the basket. For those sensitive to the idea of him reinjuring his knee, the moment was chill-inducing.
But Watson popped back up.
“The knee is not an issue,” he said. “I think I’m getting better every game, just focus on every moment, try to get better off the last game.”
Watson said he is still improving on little things, such as defensive rotations and boxing out - although that didn’t appear to be a problem when he snatched an offensive rebound from among the Kings’ big men on Saturday.
“You forget so many little things until you just play,” he said. “It’s like riding a bike: You never forget, but you get better every time.”
Denver at Utah
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Earl Watson file
• Underwent right knee surgery in April to repair meniscus
• Was unable to walk for three months and subsequently used a cane before being medically cleared to return Nov. 13
• Played 27 minutes in first two games back with the Jazz, including 17 in Saturday’s 108-97 loss at Sacramento