SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe.
Prior to Monday’s practice session at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, the Utah Jazz and swingman Gordon Hayward seemed hopeful he’d be available for tonight’s home game vs. Oklahoma City.
Hayward was scheduled to go through at least part of a practice session as he continues to mend from a Jan. 26 shoulder sprain. However, later in the afternoon the team officially listed him as “doubtful” for the game.
The Jazz’s practices are not open to the media or the public.
“It feels good to at least be taped and get back out there,” Hayward said.
“We’ll see how it goes today,” he added, moments before practice began. “If all goes well, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance (of playing against the Thunder).”
The 22-year-old Butler product has missed eight consecutive games since suffering the shoulder injury late in an overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers.
“Clearly, we’ve been cautious,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “My preference to the doctors and to (head athletic trainer) Gary (Briggs) has been, ‘Let’s worry about 600 games, not six games.’ It’s never a good time for an injury, in particular right now because we’re in a playoff push, but we want to get in front of injuries, we don’t want to chase them.”
Hayward said he has never missed this many games during his playing career — junior high, high school, college and professionally — and expressed frustration at sitting on the sidelines.
“It’s been difficult, it’s been real difficult,” he said.
The Jazz (28-24) are on a two-game slide, having dropped a 93-89 loss to Chicago last Friday and a 120-109 loss to Sacramento on Saturday.
“We didn’t play our best game,” coach Tyrone Corbin said, referring to his team’s lackluster performance against the Kings. “Give Sacramento credit, they played with a lot of emotion. Their fans were revved up about what’s going on with their team (and whether) their franchise is staying or moving. We played the night before and we just didn’t respond.”
Utah went 10-4 in January and climbed into the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference playoff chase. However, since Hayward has been out the team is 3-3, including a 45-point home loss to Houston on Jan. 28.
When they play host to the Thunder (39-12) the Jazz have going against the NBA’s second-leading scorer in Kevin Durant, who averages 28.9 points per game.
The defending Western Conference champions, Oklahoma City comes to town riding a hot streak, having won its last four games by at least 21 points.
“They’re a tremendous team, they had a great big win (Sunday night) in Phoenix,” Corbin said, referring to OKC’s 97-69 victory over the Suns. “This team is, if not the best, one of the best teams in the league. They’re playing accordingly.
“They’re trying to win as many games, right now, as they can to have the best record in the league or put themselves in the best position they can to have home-court advantage in the playoffs.”
Asked for the best gameplan to slow Durant and running mate Russell Westbrook (22.5 points per game), Corbin offered a candid response.
“Hopefully (they’ll) have the flu,” he said.
Having Hayward available won’t necessarily stop the Thunder’s one-two punch, but it would give the Jazz a much-needed lift.
“He’s the only guy that can do the things that he does,” teammate Paul Millsap said.
Hayward has been the Jazz’s top bench player, averaging 13.6 points per game.