1/3 Game Preview: Jazz at Celtics

BOSTON - Gordon Hayward played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler.

Celtics fans would clearly love to see the pair reunited next season.

Hayward is a potential free agent next summer, when even more NBA money becomes available. He would help numerous teams and there are likely several that could offer him a maximum contract.

Color the Celtics, who host Hayward and his Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, one of those teams.

The subject of free agency, and even this specific potential free agent, was broached to Stevens at practice Monday.

"We're not allowed to talk about that, as you know," Stevens said. "Certainly you have an idea on (the free agency landscape) generally, but I don't get into that stuff because (A) it's not the appropriate time and (B) out of respect for the other teams."

Hayward scored 30 points in leading the Jazz past the woeful Brooklyn Nets on Monday night and Utah comes to Boston with a four-game winning streak and a 22-13 record, fourth in the deep Western Conference.

"He's just getting better every year," Stevens said. "Again, I kind of go back to when we recruited him -- he was a skinny tennis player who could do some things on the basketball court. Now he's got a well-rounded game. I think their staff has really done a great job with him and I think he's continued to work and progress. He's a really good player."

Stevens knows what his team, which played 10 road games in December (going 6-4) and is getting ready for 10 home games in January, will face Tuesday: the league's stingiest defensive team. What the Boston coach doesn't know is how many bodies he'll have available.

A bug is going through the team; it caused Avery Bradley to miss Isaiah Thomas' 52-point explosion against the Miami Heat on Friday night. Bradley should be fine, but Marcus Smart (stomach bug) and Tyler Zeller (sinus infection) were hospitalized over the weekend and missed practice Monday.

The Celtics are hoping to win another home game after Friday's win got them to just 8-6 at home. But they have won two in a row at TD Garden and look to make it three straight for the first time this season.

Boston will also be looking to post its first win of the season against one of the league's better teams -- the Celtics are 0-9 against the top seven teams in the NBA standings.

The Jazz came into Monday night's game allowing a league-best 94.7 points per game and gave up 89 to the Nets -- the 14th time this season they have held an opponent under 90.

"It's about defense," coach Quin Snyder said after his 100th win as Utah's coach. "When you think of 'closing,' you think of offense. I think of defense like in baseball -- shutting people down and not letting them get on base and just getting outs. That's what we've got to be. ... We've just got to not let them score. (On offense) you make or miss, but defense is something you can count on."

They played without George Hill, who was experiencing concussion symptoms after getting elbowed in the face by Alex Len on Saturday in Utah's win over the Phoenix Suns, and Dante Exum (knee).

Hill is averaging a career-best 19.1 points per game and chipping in with 4.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds, but he has played in just 13 of the 35 games because of injuries.

Big man Rudy Gobert followed Saturday night's 18 points and 13 rebounds with 15 points and 16 boards at Brooklyn, his 23rd and 24th double-doubles of the season.

Thomas' 52 points capped a month that saw Boston's Little Big Man run wild. Asked about the league's player of the month award, he said, "Hell yeah. I should definitely get that award."


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