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Jazz center Rudy Gobert returns to non-contact portions of practice

Utah Jazz guard Raul Neto (25), forward Thabo Sefolosha (22) and center Rudy Gobert (27) chat during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint  Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
Utah Jazz guard Raul Neto (25), forward Thabo Sefolosha (22) and center Rudy Gobert (27) chat during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After a lengthy, three-hour practice Sunday morning, all eyes were glued to two big men on the main court at Zions Bank Basketball Center.

Utah’s injured All-NBA center Rudy Gobert is still out with a knee injury, but returned to non-contact portions of practice where he appeared lively, agile and energetic in full-court 2-on-2 action against rookie Tony Bradley with the scout guards.

“I know he’s dying to play,” said Jazz forward Jonas Jerebko, while gazing at Gobert in drills. “I don’t know when it’s going to happen. He’s looking good, he’s looking healthy, he’s got a jump in his step and a good attitude, so I can’t wait to have him back on the court.”

Jerebko wasn’t the only one paying attention, either.

Rookie Donovan Mitchell, Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey and assistant general manager Justin Zanik were some of the others standing close by to gaze at his progression.

Gobert certainly won’t return for Monday’s home game against Indiana, but could be back in the lineup by the end of next week. He’s been sidelined for 13 games with a sprained PCL in his left knee and a bone bruise in his tibia after clashing with teammate Derrick Favors in Boston on Dec. 15.

The Jazz are 3-10 without him on the floor during this latest injury. He also missed 11 games earlier in the season with a right tibia contusion.

“I talk to him all the time and he’s like ‘I’ll be back soon, I’ll be back soon,’” Mitchell impersonated Gobert. “It’s great to see him out here doing his thing, doing well, too. He’s one the hardest workers I’ve ever been around.”

Mitchell said he entered the practice facility late Saturday night to get in the cold tub and to his surprise the big man was getting a fresh haircut after wrapping up a tough workout to stay in shape. For the leader of the team to put in overtime to bounce back from his latest injury sends a message to the rest of the guys that they aren’t ready to go in tank mode just yet.

Although Utah (17-25) has lost three of its last four games and currently is in 10th place on the Western Conference standings, guys still have confidence that a playoff run is in the picture. The Jazz are 4.5 games behind Denver for the eighth spot.

After missing 15 games under the concussion protocol and with a left knee bruise, Raul Neto also returned to participate in full practice and is listed as questionable for Monday’s game versus the Pacers. He could also provide a spark off the bench.

“We’re one hot streak away from being right back where we were,” Mitchell said. “It’s been tough with the injuries, the schedule, but in the same light, we look at that, we made adjustments and I think playing the whole month of December we realized what we are as a team and who we are.”

Obviously, injuries have plagued the team all year, but the news of Thabo Sefolosha’s possible season-ending injury comes as a shocker.

Reports surfaced Saturday about Sefolosha expecting to undergo a season-ending surgery in his right knee but the Jazz confirmed that no decision has been made yet.

His injury is being described as a right knee sprain and he will continue to gather opinions on how to deal with the situation. He will sit down with his agent in Salt Lake City Monday to come up with a game plan, but he has the support of the team regardless.

“We’ll see what ultimately we find out with the prognosis going forward, but it’s unfortunate for our team anytime you lose a key guy,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder. “We’ve got to pull together and other guys have to step up, but we’ve experienced this before.”