SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Jazz welcomed Rudy Gobert back to practice on Friday after the center had missed the team’s previous five games while in the NBA’s Health and Safety protocols.
Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 last week, at the time only the second Jazz player to catch the virus, and the team struggled mightily in his absence.
The Jazz went just 1-4 in his absence and had the worst defensive rating over the stretch. The team had had the league’s fifth-best defensive rating with Gobert in the lineup over the first 37 games of the season but saw the rating drop the 30th in the while the three-time Defensive Player of the Year was out.
After practice, Gobert said he could see the difference in the team’s performance while sidelined.
“Our defense — you could feel that there was not much communication,” the All-star said.
“The number one area where I feel like we can improve is communication, consistently. Not just for one game or not just when it’s a big game.”
Without Gobert the Jazz struggled both as a team and individually, allowing 122 points or more in three of their last four outings, all losses. Within those losses, they also gave up career scoring-highs to Fred VanVleet and Domantas Sabonis, while allowing career-high assists to Lance Stephenson and Darius Garland.
Both VanVleet and Garland both recorded their first career triple-doubles with Gobert off the floor.
The good news for the Jazz is that not only has their star center returned to practice, he expects to be back on the floor on Sunday when they travel to face the Denver Nuggets.
“I’ve been cleared, I practiced today and we played today,” Gobert said. “Hopefully I can get to go out there and play with the team on Sunday.”
In addition to Gobert, both Danuel House Jr. and Norvel Pelle were back with the team at practice after missing Wednesday’s game.
Gay Not Concerned With Jazz Losing Streak
The Jazz are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, their longest since February of 2020 just before the pandemic shut down the NBA.
But while losing is a unique feeling for this team, it’s something 16-year veteran Rudy Gay has been around enough during his career to make him somewhat of an expert on the subject.
It also means he knows the difference between a bad team and a bad stretch of basketball.
“You have injuries, you have COVID, you have those things, and being a good team, we still want to get wins,” Gay said. “Sometimes you’re outmatched.”
That was the case in Wednesday’s loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers when the Jazz were forced to compete without a single center on the roster against a team that starts three seven-footers.
Like Gobert, Gay returned to practice for the Jazz after having missed the team’s losses to Cleveland and Detroit while in the NBA’s Health and Safety protocol.
“There is a lot of movement, a lot of things going on, so this is totally different,” Gay said of losing due to circumstance as opposed to playing for a bad team. “We have a great core of guys. As soon as we get them back, we’ll be right back on track.”