SALT LAKE CITY -- Even with many key players missing large swaths of games because of injuries, the Utah Jazz were able to stay on a winning track. Now that some of those players are starting to get healthy again, the Jazz could take the step forward everyone expected before the season began.
Gordon Hayward returned Saturday after a one-game absence and led Utah to a 104-84 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Now the Jazz have more good news: Derrick Favors is expected to be back in the lineup Thursday when Utah plays host to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Favors, who missed the past 13 games because of a bone contusion on his left knee, is expected to play limited minutes against Oklahoma City. He has appeared in 11 games this season, and he is averaging 10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.0 block per contest.
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His return should further strengthen one of the NBA's top defensive teams. Utah (15-10) showed why it earned such a lofty status during the fourth quarter against the Kings. The Jazz held Sacramento to just eight points on 3-of-22 shooting over the final 12 minutes. That effort helped Utah overcome a season-high 22 turnovers that led to 36 points for the Kings.
"We guarded," said Hayward, who notched his 10th consecutive 20-point game, finishing with 26. "They got nothing easy. It seemed like a lot of the shots were contested. That's just what happened. Then we were able to get the ball up the court and they weren't set. We got some good looks. People knocked down timely threes."
Finding a way to contain Russell Westbrook will offer one of the toughest defensive challenges Utah has faced this season. Westbrook is playing at a MVP level this season while serving as Oklahoma City's primary offensive option following Kevin Durant's departure over the summer.
Through 25 games, Westbrook is averaging 30.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.8 assists. If he can stay on his current pace for an entire season, he would be the first NBA player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson did it in the 1961-62 season.
Westbrook has 12 triple-doubles so far this season -- including one stretch of seven in a row. He became the first player to notch seven consecutive triple-doubles since Michael Jordan did it in the 1988-89 season.
For Westbrook, his sole goal is all about doing whatever is necessary to help his team get better and reach a championship level.
"I think that's what made those players so great -- Magic, MJ, Oscar," Westbrook told USA Today. "They did it by winning some championships (and) by also helping the guys around them. That's what I want to do."
Oklahoma City (15-10) lost two of its past three after reeling off six straight wins. The Thunder fell 114-95 at Portland on Tuesday night in the first leg of a back-to-back road trip. Oklahoma City shot only 38 percent from the field and committed 20 turnovers.
The Thunder's second-leading scorer, Victor Oladipo, did not play Tuesday after spraining his wrist against the Boston Celtics two nights earlier. Oladipo is averaging 16.1 points through 24 games.
Oklahoma City swept the season series with Utah a year ago, winning all four games.