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SALT LAKE CITY — The next couple weeks will be important for the Utah Jazz. After starting the season with a whirlwind travel schedule of 10 games in 10 different cities, the team finally gets some extended time at home.
Thursday's contest against Indiana will mark the first time the Jazz will play back-to-back home games as the team continues on a five-game homestand.
There's the obvious benefits of no travel, more practice time and extra recovery sessions. But there's the not so obvious, too: It could help get Rudy Gay on the court.
"Now that we're home for 10 days, I think it's a great period where even if we're not having practice, we're having an environment where we can set stuff up for two on two, three on three, four on four, and then have him integrated fully into practice," Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said Tuesday.
Gay is recovering from an offseason surgery to his right heel that has kept him on the sideline during his first season in Utah. While there hasn't been a setback, per se, the travel has made it hard for him to get some time on the court. Just take a look at last week's schedule:
- Wednesday: Fly to Atlanta
- Thursday: Game against the Hawks; fly to Miami
- Friday: Rest day with some players getting in shots
- Saturday: Game against Heat; fly to Orlando
- Sunday: Play Magic; fly back to Salt Lake City
There's not a lot of space to set training runs for Gay; that all changes now. Starting with Tuesday's win over Atlanta, the Jazz will play nine of its next 11 games at home. That could provide the Jazz with enough sessions to get a feel for how close Gay is to a return.
When the Jazz signed Gay in August, they knew they'd have to wait. They were aware of the procedure he had undergone just after the season concluded and were fine with the recovery timeline.
That timeline is starting to get more and more into focus. Gay progressed to playing three on three Tuesday, and is inching closer to full-court activity.
"This isn't ahead of schedule, behind schedule, this is exactly where we thought it would come to," Zanik said. "When we got our schedule, this is what it looked like. He's hit every benchmark that he's needed."
The next benchmark may come soon enough: Gay will be re-evaluated on Nov. 15. Though that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be playing soon after the evaluation. It's a process to go from "controlled court work," as the Jazz are calling it, to being a full participant in practice and playing in a game.
Gay has been medically cleared, so at this point it's about rebuilding muscle and strength to get him back to competition-fitness level.
"You don't have any sort of competition and then immediately go to contact," Zanik said. "There's a lot of stages that you need to get through with strength and cardio and those things — let alone learning the offense and all that stuff."
So there's still some steps to go, but the good news is Gay has made progress. Utah, no doubt, is eager to see what Gay can do in their system. He's a long, athletic forward, the like of which Quin Snyder hasn't really had in his system. Throw in the fact that he can play some small-ball center and he's someone the Jazz will surely need come postseason.
"His game has translated in lots of different places at a high level," Zanik said. "I would expect that whatever acclimation period is, I think he'll fit in pretty quickly."