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Utah's George Hill looks like his old self, despite a month layoff

SALT LAKE CITY — George Hill said he was “a little rusty” and that he wasn’t close to 100 percent. But that wasn’t evident at all Thursday night when Hill made his return to the Utah Jazz lineup after missing a month with an injury to his right big toe.

In Utah’s 100-83 victory over Philadelphia, Hill surpassed his 20.0 scoring average for the season with a team-high 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds, handing out six assists and making three steals in 29 minutes of action

While Hill’s numbers were impressive, it was his mere presence on the court that made a noticeable difference to a Jazz team that had played well without him, but has missed his leadership.

“It’s all about what I can do to help the team win,” Hill said afterward. “It’s not about scoring, it’s having that presence out there and managing the game and getting everyone involved.”

To show how important Hill’s presence was to the team, his plus-minus number was plus-31 for the game, well above anyone else on the team (backup point guard Shelvin Mack was minus-14).

Hill had missed eight games earlier in the season with a sprained thumb and has had a hard time shaking off the toe injury suffered in the Nov. 29 game against Houston.

When asked if he was 100 percent yet, Hill shook his head and said, “No, I don’t think I’ll be there for a while” before adding, “It’s mind over matter.”

With Hill out of the lineup, the Jazz have had difficulty closing games, seeing several large leads dissipate in the final quarter during the last month. But Thursday night, the opposite happened as Hill was instrumental in Utah’s 30-9 fourth quarter that turned a four-point deficit into a 17-point victory.

“Before we went out (for the fourth) I told the guys, ‘hey we’ve got to make a push, get a couple of stops together — let's get out on offense and string a couple of good offensive possessions and a bunch of stops on the defensive end,’” he said. “I think that’s thing that broke the game open.”

Hill ended up playing just slightly less than his season-average of 32 minutes, but coach Quin Snyder didn’t let Hill play more than six minutes at a time, aware that his conditioning may take awhile to get back to normal.

Hill is expected to be back in the starting lineup Saturday evening when the Jazz take on Phoenix in a 6 p.m. game at Vivint Arena. The 10-23 Suns are coming off a 99-91 victory Thursday night over Toronto, which defeated Utah six days earlier.

Even though his team has forged a 20-13 record, despite being without several injured players all season, Snyder feels his team can play a lot better.

“We’re not that good of a team right now,” he said. “We’re OK. I don’t feel like we're playing great basketball. It's going to take time, and it’s a question of getting everybody in synch. Hopefully, we have a chance to get there.”

After Saturday night’s game, the Jazz will leave Sunday for a five-game road trip beginning with Brooklyn Monday night. After that the Jazz will play Boston Tuesday, Toronto Thursday, Minnesota Saturday and Memphis Sunday.

JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz already own a victory over the Suns this year, a 112-105 decision back on Dec. 6. The two teams meet one more time, Jan. 16 in Phoenix. … The Suns are led by guards Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker, who average 19.9 ppg and 18.8 ppg, respectively. … The Jazz are now 6-0 with both Gordon Hayward and Hill in the lineup. … The Jazz actually shot better from 3-point range (57.7 percent) against Philadelphia than from the free-throw line (53.6 percent). … After scoring just 14 points total in his last four games, Rodney Hood scored 20 points against the Sixers, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range.