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Utah Jazz: Shelvin Mack gets a shot at his old Atlanta teammates

SALT LAKE CITY — When they were teammates in Atlanta, Hawks point guard Jeff Teague used to tease Shelvin Mack about one particular play that happened when the two faced off against each other in an NBA game.

The play happened when Mack was with the Washington Wizards and before he ended up in Atlanta, where he forged a tight bond with Teague.

“He always brings up him chasing me down and giving me a block,” Mack recalled with a smile. “Hopefully, I can repay that (Tuesday).”

Mack has blocked only one shot all season — in his Jazz debut in Portland — so that would be quite the achievement and a nice bit of payback for the 6-foot-3 guard.

With Atlanta visiting Vivint Arena tonight, that Mack-Atlanta reunion will be one of the fun side stories. He played for the Hawks for at least part of the last three seasons.

Utah will also get its annual visit from former Jazzmen Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver, and the team will play its first home game since losing a dud of a game against Brooklyn a week ago Saturday.

After Tuesday’s practice, Mack tried to convince media that his first game against his old team isn’t that big of a deal.

“It’s just another game,” he said, nonchalantly. “Go out there, have fun and compete.”

Just another game.

C’mon. Really!?

“Yeah, it’s just another game,” Mack said, trying to sound convincing. “It’s not like I left Atlanta on bad terms or anything. I understand the situation. I still talk to those guys a lot. I talk to Coach Bud (Mike Budenholzer). It wasn’t a bad situation leaving there.”

It was actually quite the positive move for Mack’s career.

In Atlanta, the 25-year-old found himself relegated to the No. 3 spot in the Hawks’ point guard rotation. He rarely played as Teague, a former All-Star, and up-and-comer Dennis Schroder divided the majority of the playmaker minutes.

Meanwhile in Utah, the Jazz were struggling to find point guard consistency this season after Dante Exum’s offseason knee injury. Rookie Raul Neto provided decent defensive minutes and a couple of offensive outbursts and third-year point guard Trey Burke gave an occasional scoring spark off the bench, but the position was clearly Utah’s weak spot over the course of the first three and a half months of the 2015-16 season.

That’s why the Jazz opted to give up a future second-round pick in exchange for Mack, a fifth-year point guard from Butler, in hopes of stabilizing that position in time for a playoff push this spring.

While the Jazz’s record doesn’t reflect a positive shift in play — they’re 2-6 since Mack became eligible — his addition has been welcomed by the team.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who became a fan of Mack as an assistant in Atlanta in 2013-14, pointed out that the point guard has had some nice offensive moments (including a recent eight-assist game) and has taken on some defensive assignments against bulkier players.

“I think he’s making a good transition,” Snyder said, citing the need for some continued patience as he gels with teammates. “A lot of that is a compliment to Bud and his staff and their team … and to him, of course.”

Added Snyder: “He knows how to play.”

Mack is averaging 11.3 points on 44.3 percent shooting, 3.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals in the eight games he’s donned the J-note jersey.

“It’s been pretty good,” Mack said. “I think I’m starting to get a rhythm.”

Mack has had some shortcomings, too, including games with six and four turnovers and an overall poor showing in Toronto when he missed all six of his field-goal attempts.

Mack said that he spent extra practice time with Snyder to work on the turnover issue along with footwork and getting teammates in the right position.

“I love him — just working with Coach Quin again,” Mack said. “He was able to show me the spots on the court where I was getting (turnovers). I was able to take (the teaching) to the court and cut them down, so that’s been great.”

Mack smiled when asked if Snyder is different as a head coach than as an assistant.

“Way different,” he said. “A little bit more fired up. Very, very detailed.”

In other words, Mack is getting yelled at by Snyder now, right?

“He’s definitely yelling at me, especially to get back in transition,” Mack said. “But it’s been great.”

The best part of this Mack-Atlanta reunion is that he’ll be playing a major role instead of being relegated to mop-up time, if that, on the bench.

“It feels good. The biggest thing is I’m able to stay positive and stay ready. The NBA is all about situations,” Mack said. “When your opportunity comes, you’ve got to be ready and take advantage of it. I think I just been having a great mindset — of staying positive, thinking positive, and being ready for my opportunity.”

That will include some one-on-one opportunities against Teague, a guy he spent plenty of time playing with and against the past few seasons and summers.

In that sense, even Mack has to admit this game is a bit more than just another game.

Added Mack: “It’s going to be great to go out there and compete.”

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