For a while now, they have been observers in practice. On Monday, Rodney Hood and Joe Johnson got a little more involved.

Both players participated in a non-contact session Monday, boosting hope that they’ll be able to return for the upcoming road trip. The Tribune has learned that Hood is targeting a comeback on Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls. Neither coach Quin Snyder nor anyone else got that specific, but it was a big moment for both to be practicing.

“We’ve had a tough run of the year with different guys out,” Joe Ingles said. “It’s nice to have most of our group back. Obviously two pretty key pieces of what we do.”

Hood has been Utah’s leading per-game scorer (17.7 ppg) but has missed the last seven games with reported ankle soreness. The Jazz have gone 4-3 without him, but have lately missed his shooting prowess that he had recently been bringing off the bench.

Jazz at Bulls

When • Wednesday, 6 p.m. MST


Johnson has missed substantially more time, being out the last 20 games with wrist tendon instability. After several evaluations with hand specialists, Johnson’s timeline has been repeatedly pushed back.

While Johnson didn’t make a big impact off the bench early this season, he developed a reputation last season as one of Utah’s closers. Snyder said when the Jazz lost a 17-point lead at Oklahoma City last week, Johnson’s presence was greatly missed.

“He’s a different player than what we have,” he said. “He’ll give us that, whether it’s ability to close a game, make a big shot or settle the team.”

Raul Neto did not practice after leaving the Milwaukee game and entering the team’s concussion protocol. The Jazz haven’t said whether any of the three — Hood, Johnson or Neto — will be available for Wednesday’s game.

Jazz push past scheduling snafus

Sunday was a much-needed off day for the Jazz ahead of five more games on the road. Asked if the team took a vote to come back between games against Milwaukee and Chicago, Snyder said it didn’t, but Utah identified that stretch as a good time to avoid some drag on the longest road stretch of the year.

“We just felt like coming back was the best thing from a rest standpoint,” he said. “They can get treatments and lifts, and come back and see their families for a day. So emotionally, psychologically and physically, we’d have been on the road a long, long time had we stayed out there.”

Since last month, Snyder has repeated that December will be the hardest month of the schedule not just for the Jazz, but any team in the NBA: Upcoming road games against Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Oklahoma City underscore that.

But there’s also the matter of rest. The Jazz have already played six back-to-backs (only Phoenix has played more, with seven). They’ll play another on the road trip (Boston-Cleveland) and finish out with one as well (Oklahoma City then the Spurs at home). The Jazz are 4-2 in the second games of back-to-backs so far.

Snyder said that he doesn’t want to spend much time bristling at the algorithms the NBA uses to determine the schedule.

“We’ll get through it,” he said. “With the exception of the back-to-backs with Phoenix earlier in the year, we’ve showed up [in back-to-backs]. We’ve been competitive.”

Hospital visit

The Jazz took some time after Monday’s practice to visit Primary Children’s Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital for Children. It’s an annual team tradition, including the Jazz Bear and the Wheelin’ Jazz and Jazz dancers.

“The fact that it comes at this time of the year when we’re all reflective about family and giving and fortune, it’s just a lot of things it makes you think about how fortunate we are in many respects,” Snyder said. “We’ll all meet with a level of adversity. You can gain inspiration from those children who have been handed that and how they deal with it with a lot of courage.”