Orlando, Fla. • When Royce O’Neale signed with the Utah Jazz this summer, the last thing he expected was to play significant minutes in November.
But injuries, coupled with O’Neale’s play in practice, prompted Jazz coach Quin Snyder to turn to him in Friday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets as O’Neale played a career-high 21 minutes.
“It’s more of just us having a next man up mentality,” O’Neale said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, and when guys can’t go, you tend to look deeper into the bench. I thought I played well in spots. But I just tried to bring energy to the floor, rebound, play defense and do a lot of the little things.”
O’Neale scored four points on Friday and grabbed seven rebounds, tying for the team lead. He came up with two steals. His most visible play was a two-hand dunk in transition. He made the right plays, and was in the right places at the right times.
The night wasn’t perfect for O’Neale, who missed two free throws that could’ve cut into Brooklyn’s lead in the fourth quarter. His turnover was a big one, leading to a transition basket.
But the Jazz liked O’Neale for his versatility. He is able to play multiple positions on the floor, and that versatility is what gained him a spot on the roster over Joel Bolomboy. On Friday, O’Neale showed he’s still a little raw offensively, but the overall skill and the ability to defend is there.
“The main thing is just to try and get better,” O’Neale said. “It felt good to play real minutes. You never know when your name is going to be called, so I have to take advantage of the playing time when I get the chance. It’s just about going out and executing the work I put into practice every day.”
Getting a bit healthier
The Jazz got point guard Ricky Rubio and small forward Thabo Sefolosha back for Saturday’s game after missing Friday night with Achilles soreness and knee soreness, respectively. Rubio was inserted into the starting lineup against the Magic and placed on a minutes restriction.
“It’s good to get anybody back,” Snyder said. “In Ricky’s case, that soreness is something the doctors want to monitor. He’s not in harm’s way, but we don’t want to overuse him, because that’s something that can continue to linger, otherwise.”
In facing the Magic, the Jazz faced former point guard Shelvin Mack for the first time this season. Mack served as an important member of Snyder’s rotation last season in a backup role and as a spot starter whenever George Hill was injured. He left for Orlando in free agency and is averaging 5.2 points and 5.1 assists per game this season. ... Jazz rookie Tony Bradley was born and raised in Bartow, Fla., about 60 miles outside of Orlando. He had a large contingent of family and friends present on Saturday night.