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Christmas can be a challenge for Jazz players, coaches and their families

SALT LAKE CITY — For NBA players and coaches, Christmas Day can often get lost in the shuffle since it comes right in the middle of the regular season.

This year, a third of the teams will play on Christmas Day with five games being televised, although the Jazz won’t be included again. The last time Utah played on Christmas was exactly 20 years ago when the John Stockton and Karl Malone-led Jazz defeated Houston 107-103.

Instead the Jazz will leave Christmas night to get ready for a game at Denver the following night after getting Christmas Eve off, like the rest of the league, to be with their families.

The Jazz coaches and players, many of whom have children, are understanding about basketball getting in the way of Christmas.

“To be honest with you, it’s part of this profession,” said coach Quin Snyder. “You can look at it as half full or half empty. We we’ve been fortunate to be home during Thanksgiving. We have an opportunity to be with our families tomorrow on Christmas Eve and the majority of Christmas Day. We pushed the flight back a couple of hours and will make sure the kids have enough time to open presents and you still have enough time to pack.”

Jazz veteran Joe Johnson has been dealing with Christmas disruption for the last 16 seasons.

“Oh yeah, I’ve played on Christmas, traveled on Christmas, I’ve been in every situation, so nothing surprises me at this point,” Johnson said. “You get a chance to spend time with your family as much as possible. I mean you deal with it and then you have to move on.”

Alec Burks is excited to be home for Christmas with his new 9-month-old daughter.

“It’s going to be different this year, my daughter’s here and we can spend our first Christmas together,” Burks said with a smile. “But it is what it is, it’s still a job at the end of the day. You spend your time and go right back to work.”

As far as playing on Christmas Day, Snyder said “sure” about having his team play on the 25th.

“Maybe someday we’ll be playing on Christmas Day and then we’ll lament not having Christmas.”

CHANGES: The Jazz made it official Saturday that they have signed Naz Mitrou-Long to a two-way contract.

The 6-foot-4 former Iowa State guard has appeared in 20 games (15 starts) for the Jazz’s G League team, the Salt Lake City Stars, this season. He is averaging 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 34.3 minutes per contest and has tallied five 20-plus point-scoring efforts.

Mitrou-Long was active for Saturday’s game, but didn’t get in the game.

Earlier in the week, the Jazz signed Erik McCree, a 6-8 forward from Louisiana Tech, to a two-way contract and also waived guard Nate Wolters and forward Eric Griffin.

JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz came in as the fourth-best free-throw shooting team in the league, and after missing three of their first nine free throws, made their last 11 of the game to finish 17 of 20. … Utah outshot OKC from the field 45.8 percent to 44.3, but was outrebounded 45-37. … The Thunder came up with nine steals to just three for the Jazz. … After playing Denver Tuesday and Golden State Wednesday, the Jazz will play Cleveland at home Saturday night.