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Gordon Hayward didn't want to tease Derrick Favors, if only because he had a keen sense of what he's been through this season. At the same time, he couldn't help but chuckle at the prevailing thought swirling through his head when he walked onto the floor at the Staples Center.
"I thought it was a little weird, because it's been so long," Hayward said.
Favors made his first start since Nov. 14 on Tuesday night, a narrow win over the Los Angeles Lakers. He played 22 minutes, scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds, shooting 2 of 5 from the field. But it was another step in the right direction for Favors, who is trying to work his way through the roughest individual season of his career.
"Sometimes the matchups dictate that," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "The Lakers started really big with [Julius] Randle at the four [power forward]. And Derrick's minutes are increasing. We still don't have complete latitude with how we use him. But as things have progressed, it made sense to start him tonight."
Favors has struggled since returning a few weeks ago from a bone contusion. His lift off the floor and his explosion at the rim are missing. The rhythm on his jumper is not there. And his defense isn't right, especially on the perimeter.
But, as the Jazz head into Thursday night's home game against the Philadelphia 76ers, advanced metrics show that it's prudent to have Favors in the starting lineup. When he and Rudy Gobert are on the floor together, the Jazz are outscoring opponents by almost 16 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz have won 11 of their 13 games this season when starting four pieces of their preferred lineup. And with Favors in the lineup on Tuesday night, Quin Snyder was able to mix and match and use a semblance of his projected frontcourt for the first time in a long while.
Favors had become frustrated at the 15-minute restriction placed upon his initial return, but knows he still has a ways to go. Still, he was happy to back into the lineup. Tuesday night was only his 10th start of the season.
"It felt good," Favors said. "It felt good to be back out there and get some reps. So hopefully, I can just improve off that. I feel good physically, I'm not in pain or anything. So it's all about getting back into a rhythm. I lost a month to the injury, so it definitely felt good being back in the starting lineup."
Favors and Gobert are unique in today's NBA, which utilizes small-ball and big men who shoot 3-pointers. But their ability to defend and cover ground and bludgeon teams by rebounding the ball and scoring in the paint have made them one of the more intriguing duos around.
With Favors in the starting lineup, the Jazz make it difficult for opponents to score in the paint, which allows perimeter defenders to press closer on 3-point shooters. Against the Lakers, Snyder used them concurrently, and also used Favors extensively with his second unit, creating 48 minutes with one of the two on the floor at all times.
Gobert, who is playing the best basketball of his career, said he appreciates Favors' presence. With him on the floor, Gobert said, he feels like he doesn't have to do everything defensively.
"It's great have him back," Gobert said. "I feel like he looks better and better each game with the way he's moving, so that part is exciting for sure."
With Favors in the lineup, Snyder had depth off the bench up front, and it paid off in key spots against the Lakers. Boris Diaw scored all 10 of his points in the first half on Tuesday, stepping up to help when scoring options beyond Hayward were few. Trey Lyles played 13 minutes, grabbed six rebounds and made a huge 3-pointer down the stretch.
Favors said he knows he has a lot of improving to do. Still, Tuesday night represented another step in the process back from the bone contusion that's robbed him of a chunk of the season.
"Missing that month hurt me chemistry-wise," Favors said. "It hurt me rhythm-wise, as well. So I'm working on getting all of that back."
Derrick Favors update
• Favors has made 10 starts this season. His last start before Tuesday night was in a November loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
• The power forward is averaging 8.8 ppg (his lowest output since 2011-12) and 5.6 rpg (lowest since 2010-11).
• He scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in Tuesday night's win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
76ers at Jazz
P At Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City
Tipoff • Thursday, 7 p.m.
TV • ROOT
Radio • 1280 AM; 97.5 FM
Records • Philadelphia 7-23; Utah 19-13
Last meeting • Jazz 109-84 (Nov. 7)
About the 76ers • Philadelphia's seven wins are more than the team's win total by Christmas the past two seasons combined, according to ESPN.com. … Sixers rookie big man Joel Embiid continues to draw rave reviews. Said Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, "I think he's got a great chance of being the best big in the league … after I retire." … With rookie forward Ben Simmons coming closer to his NBA debut, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he will use Simmons as a point guard. … The Sixers have lost five of their past six games.
About the Jazz • Thursday's game could mark the return of George Hill. Utah's starting point guard has missed most of the past month with a sprained toe. … The Jazz have played their preferred starting lineup for a combined 12 minutes this season. … Utah broke a three-game losing streak with Tuesday night's win over the Los Angeles Lakers . … Guard Rodney Hood hasn't made a 3-pointer since his game-winner against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 16.