Orlando, Fla. • Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors were complete strangers a year ago. Hayward was struggling through a frustrating rookie season with the Jazz. Favors had just been traded to Utah from New Jersey in the blockbuster Deron Williams trade, as quiet as he was shy.
Nearly a year to the day the Jazz duo became teammates, their friendship has never been stronger. And they scored 14 points apiece Friday during Team Chuck’s 146-133 victory over Team Shaq in the Rising Stars Challenge at Amway Center.
Jazzmen at the challenge
FG FT 3pt Reb Ast Stl Blk Pts
Gordon Hayward 5-8 4-4 0-2 3 2 1 2 14
Derrick Favors 5-5 4-4 0-0 2 1 3 0 14
The contest featured 20 first- and second-year players and helped tip off All-Star weekend.
Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving stole the show, pouring in a game-high 34 points on 12-of-13 shooting and drilling all eight of his 3-point attempts. But while the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft continued his ascension, Indiana’s Paul George (23 points) again proved his mettle, and young stars such as Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio dominated the jumbotron, Utah’s promising duo more than held their own.
Trading slams and at times teaming up for smooth assists that resulted in power dunks, Hayward and Favors provided a glimpse of what Jazzland has long known. Utah has some of the best young talent in the game, and the Nos. 3 and 9 picks in 2011 scream future All-Star potential.
"It was awesome. Anytime you get to play side-by-side with a teammate in an event like this really gives you a sense of pride. The Jazz have got some good pieces. And if we can develop, we should be pretty good," said Hayward, who hit 5 of 8 shots, grabbed three rebounds, dished out two assists and recorded two blocks in 18 minutes, 16 seconds.
Hayward and Favors weren’t the only Salt Lake City representatives near the hardwood. Hayward caught up with Jazz CEO Greg Miller after the game, meeting his family behind Team Chuck’s bench.
Wherever G-Man goes, the Human Pogo Stick normally follows, and such was the case Friday. Utah forward Jeremy Evans also sat behind the bench, watching his good friend and eyeing the same court he’s set to fly across Saturday in an attempt to capture the dunk contest crown.
"You know how Jeremy is: He’s all smiles. It’s just great for him to be here," Hayward said.
Favors was equally relaxed. It was his second consecutive year in the rookie-sophomore matchup, and he rivaled Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Griffin as the most powerful big man on the court. Favors drilled all five of his field-goal attempts, hit all four of his free throws, collected three steals, and did it all in an efficient 14:48.
"That was my second time doing it and it was fun," Favors said.
Even more fun: hanging with Hayward during All-Star weekend. The duo spent almost their entire Friday together, running through a loose Challenge practice, answering rapid-fire media questions and laughing when they weren’t competing.
They took the court together for Team Chuck midway through the first quarter. Then they helped answer each other’s questions during a postgame interview, with Favors interrupting Hayward so he could predict Evans will take the dunk title. Now, they’ll return to SLC with even more in common.
Hayward teased Favors about his devotion to free food — the Jazz power forward is drawn like a college student to the cheap stuff, and often devours two footlong sandwiches before games. And while Hayward talked postgame about the challenge a struggling Jazz team faces during the second half of a lockout-shortened season, Favors sat within arm’s length across the table, proudly standing up for the impossible-to-ignore neon-orange shoes he wore during the Challenge.
"Adidas gave me shoes. They give me a check. They pay me to wear the shoes. I have no complaints," Favors said laughing. "I do what I’m supposed to do, man. I can’t complain."
A year ago, Favors was barely talking; Hayward was wondering about what life would’ve been like had he stayed one more year at Butler.
Friday, they’ve never been closer.
"This year we kind of clicked together," Favors said. "We hung with each other and just developed chemistry with each other."
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