SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utah Jazz enter the toughest stretch of the season, its rim most reliable protector will be in the lineup.
After missing the past three weeks, Rudy Gobert will make his return tonight at 7 p.m. when the Jazz host the Washington Wizards.
“He’ll have some minutes restrictions as he’s coming back,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “Without getting into too much detail on those, you’ll get a feel for it tonight.
“They’re not hard and fast, we want to honor those things because they’re well thought out,” he added.
Jazz guard Raul Neto is also available after missing the past two games with left hamstring soreness, but Rodney Hood is still out with left ankle soreness. There is still no timetable on Hood’s return as he has missed the last three games.
Gobert has missed the last 11 games with a right tibia contusion, but returned for a “light” practice Sunday. He initially suffered the bone bruise during a Nov. 10 loss to the Miami Heat after clashing with Dion Waiters and was expected to miss at least four weeks, but his hard work with the Jazz’s training staff has helped him get back ahead of schedule.
“He’s worked his tail off,” Snyder said. “Rudy’s never been a stranger to work and hard work. That’s one of the reasons that he’s improved the way he has, and he approaches his injuries the same way as he’s approached his free throws, his catching and all those different things that we’ve seen him improve.”
Utah went 7-4 in his absence, with Derrick Favors shifting to the center position smoothly and Jonas Jerebko finding his niche at power forward, but the guys are happy to have him back.
“Everybody’s happy for him to come back,” Favors said. “We’re excited for him, and he’s been working hard in the training room, getting right, getting his knee right so we’re excited for him."
Snyder and his coaching staff have gathered information on how to get him back adjusted to the group because they are a different team than they were at the beginning of the year.
The Jazz have won five straight games and has emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league, with rookie Donovan Mitchell going off for a career-high 41 points during Saturday’s 114-108 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans. Favors averaged 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds while shooting 61 percent from the floor during that stretch without Gobert but he said he is willing to do whatever to help the team moving forward.
Favors used the opportunity to prove his worth during a contract season. He called Gobert’s injury a “blessing in disguise” as the team was able to find its identity with Jerebko, Thabo Sefolosha, Ekpe Udoh finding a rhythm in their new roles.
“I’m prepared for anything,” Favors said. “If I go back to the five, I’m at the five, if I go back to the four, I’m at the four so I’m pretty much prepared for whatever Q wants me to do.”
The Jazz (12-11) now have a good problem on their hands with Gobert’s return as they try to keep the streak going.
Gobert averages 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds and a league-leading 2.5 blocks per game.
“It’s great anytime you get a player of Rudy’s caliber back,” Snyder said. “It’s something for our team, having available bodies is a good thing.
“How we adjust, and use those guys and who plays and who plays together, those are all things that show themselves to you.”