Jazz rookie Hayward's defense gets tested
Jazz rookie forward Gordon Hayward has been on alert.
Hayward has been asked to defend two of the NBA's elite players Denver's Carmelo Anthony and Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant during two consecutive games.
Anthony easily won the first battle, scoring 31 points Friday during Utah's road victory, while Hayward had one of his most frustrating professional outings: zero points, four fouls, nine minutes.
But the rookie rebounded Saturday during the Jazz's 121-105 home loss to Oklahoma City.
Hayward drew the primary assignment on Durant, who leads the league with 29.1 average points.
Durant was just average against Utah, scoring 21 points but shooting only 7 of 17 from the field while never taking over the game.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan took notice, praising Hayward's effort.
"He's one of the best scorers in the league," said Hayward, who scored six points. "I looked at it as a challenge, and it was fun guarding him. I was able to stay out of foul trouble. â¦ It's good to be in there for a little bit."
Denver guard J.R. Smith was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Saturday for a flagrant two technical foul on Jazz guard Raja Bell.
Smith was ejected because of the foul, which occurred late during the fourth quarter Friday during Utah's win against the Nuggets.
Bell and Smith tangled for several series before the play, and Bell acknowledged that he was not surprised when the hit was delivered.
"It was just a matter of time," Bell said Friday. "I was lucky enough that when Deron threw the ball to me that I caught a glimpse of him coming, so I was able to kind of get off of two feet and not really put myself out there to get injured. But I kind of knew something like that was coming."
Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko (sprained left ankle) and center Mehmet Okur (sprained lower back) did not play against the Thunder.
Kirilenko, who has missed three consecutive contests, said Saturday that he plans to try and take the court Monday during a road game at Sacramento.
Meanwhile, Okur is unsure when he will return to action. He is officially out through the Kings game, but could miss more time, since he would still have to ramp up his conditioning and participate in practice before he is cleared to play.
Okur has dealt with several injuries this season and has only participated in 13 of Utah's 52 games. As a result, he plans to be as cautious as possible this time around.