As Rudy Gobert walked over to speak to the assembled media on Wednesday afternoon at Zions Bank Basketball campus, he was noticeably more tan, and had a hint of a sunburn on the bridge of his nose.
Asked if his mother hadn’t taught him to wear sunscreen, he grinned, shook his head, and replied, “It never works.”
Aside from some potential discomfort from excessive rays, though, Gobert was feeling good, though. Gone was the pain of being snubbed from the NBA All-Star Game. Instead came a beach vacation that helped the big man get his mind right and get prepared for the rest of the season.
“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically. For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back,” Gobert said when asked how he’d spent the break. “The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”
Everyone associated with the Jazz knows what’s ahead: 25 games to go — 13 at home, 12 on the road; eight against teams at or above .500, and 17 vs. teams presently failing to tread water.
That is what stands between them being presently situated sixth in the Western Conference, and potentially improving their standing and postseason fortunes.
“We haven’t talked about it or anything. Everyone knows the schedule, the ladder, how everyone’s sitting. We wanna finish, obviously, as high as we can, no matter what that is,” said forward Joe Ingles. “It’s still pretty early to be trying to fight for whatever position or series. As cliche as it is, we’ll just take each game and try and win as many of ’em as possible. At the end of the day, we just want to be playing our best basketball by the end of the year.”
To that end, Wednesday saw them return from the All-Star break to a multi-hour practice at the ZBBC.
Coach Quin Snyder praised his players for being “a group that embraces practice.” He noted that, in the lengthy session, he tried to find the right balance between implementing some ideas that came to him over the break, while being “careful not to try and change too many things.”
JAZZ AT THUNDER
When • Friday, 7:30 p.m. MST
TV • ATTSN
For his part, Ingles said it was good simply to get back into a normal basketball routine.
“After having six or seven days [off], you can do as much as you want by yourself; getting up and down five on five is very different. We got up and down,” he said. “And you give coach seven days off, he probably watched every game. [So practice entailed] just adjusting to some things that we think have worked over the first  games we’ve played, and some things that haven’t worked as well.”
The Jazz will fly to Oklahoma City Thursday. And Friday will feature their official return to action, against a Thunder team that has won eight of its past 10 and sits third in the West.
Before the break, members of the Jazz sought to impress upon observers the idea that they very much remain a work in progress. Now comes the opportunity to show what they are yet capable of.
Ingles pointed out that further growth may yet emanate simply from the ability to “just be a full team, a full group, and get out there and lay together” — a reaction spurred by the news that point guard Dante Exum, who has missed a month and half with a sprained ankle, was a partial participant in Wednesday’s practice. (His status will be officially updated Thursday.)
In the meantime, the players vowed they will try not to do too much scoreboard-watching down the stretch, difficult as that may be.
“We’re in a great position — the toughest part of the schedule is behind us,” Gobert said. “So we just gotta keep taking care of ourselves, getting better, keep winning games, and we’ll be fine.”
Snyder added that while there’s a natural inclination to attach additional significance to the remaining portion of the schedule, it’s imperative for he and his players to simply keep their attention on constant self-improvement.
“As we get to the end of the season, games take on a different type of significance. You can see tangibly how they impact where you’re seeded, if you’re a playoff team, if you’re fighting to make the playoffs, all those different things,” he said. “… I don’t want our focus to go away from getting better. The thing I’ve tried to maintain is for us to maximize what we have.”