2/26 Game Preview: Celtics at Jazz

Gordon Hayward gets his second homecoming since leaving his seven-year NBA home when the Boston Celtics visit the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.

The 29-year-old is enjoying a turn-back-the-clock campaign two seasons after suffering a career-threatening broken leg in his Celtics debut in 2017.

Hayward contributed 12 points and five rebounds to Boston's 118-106 victory at Portland on Tuesday in the opener of a back-to-back.

No Celtics player was pressed into more than 34 minutes of duty in the win, including Hayward, who went just 31.

He will enter Wednesday's game averaging 17.3 points while shooting a career-high 50.8 percent.

An All-Star in 2017, his final season with the Jazz, Hayward has visited Utah just once previously since signing a four-year, $128 million free-agent contract with Boston. Only 11 games removed from having to sit out the final 81 games of the 2017-18 season, Hayward had 13 points and seven assists in 26 minutes in a 123-115 loss at Utah in November 2018.

The Jazz also won at Boston 98-86 eight days later, sweeping the season series for the first time since 2006-07. Hayward had just seven points and four rebounds in the rematch.

The Celtics have alternated wins and losses in the first three games of their trip, sandwiching a narrow defeat in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Sunday with victories at Minnesota and Portland.

They'd love to get All-Star point guard Kemba Walker in the lineup for the first time on the trip in Utah, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted Monday that his title-contending club would rather err on the side of caution with the veteran's sore knee.

"What he's doing is exactly what we said: Strengthening and working out hard and trying to make it so it doesn't become a back-and-forth thing," Stevens explained to reporters. "That's the goal. Let's do it now, strengthen it, make it as good as it can be, then we can ramp up accordingly as we head into the stretch run."

The Celtics will be encountering a Jazz team that's been struggling. After opening a six-game homestand with a win over Miami, Utah has been beaten in succession by San Antonio, Houston and Phoenix.

The last of those games, a 131-111 drubbing Monday, was most disheartening not only in that it was at the hands of a team with a losing record, but also in that the Suns put up the second-most points scored by a Jazz opponent this season.

Utah, which began the season by holding its first five opponents under 100 points, has now allowed 12 of its last 13 foes to score in triple figures, including the last seven in a row.

"We're gonna keep getting the same result if we don't focus and execute on the defensive end," Jazz coach Quin Snyder insisted to reporters after Monday's loss. "This is a group that's done that. But that doesn't matter right now. What that should tell us is that we're capable, at least on some level. But right now that's not who we are. Who you are is who you are now, not who you've been or what you're gonna do or what you can do. It's what you do."

The Jazz wrap up a six-game homestand Friday against Washington.


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