Jazz take aim at topping red-hot Hornets

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Only a few games into the season, the Utah Jazz are being attacked ruthlessly by the injury bug. And it's taking down one starter after another.

First, it was forwards Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. Hayward broke his finger and missed six games to open the season. Favors sat out the opener and played under a minutes restriction in subsequent games while dealing with knee and IT band soreness.

Now that Hayward and Favors are back, forward Boris Diaw and point guard George Hill are sidelined. Diaw has missed five games with a right leg contusion and Hill sat out Utah's 104-89 win over Philadelphia on Monday night while recovering from a sprained thumb he injured against New York a day earlier.

Still, the Jazz are finding a way to survive and thrive on their current five-game road trip. Utah beat the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers on back-to-back nights and hope to make it three straight when they face the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night.

“It speaks to our inner drive a little bit, because we have some expectations for ourselves this year,” Hayward said following the win over the Sixers. “You've got to take care of these games.”

Hayward certainly hasn't been lacking drive since his return. He has averaged 24.0 points during the road trip after making his season debut against the Knicks. The Jazz forward hasn't been alone in his efforts.

Favors had his best game to date this season at Philadelphia. He finished with season highs of 16 points and 14 rebounds and added three blocked shots. It has taken a while, but Favors is starting to look like himself on the court again.

“I'm still not 100 percent yet, but I'm getting there,” Favors said. “I'm getting comfortable out there, starting to get my rhythm back, starting to get my explosiveness back.”

Charlotte comes into Wednesday's game with plenty of positive momentum. The Hornets started fast in a 122-100 victory over Indiana. They unloaded 43 points in the first quarter alone after scoring on their first 12 possessions of the game.

It marks the third consecutive win for Charlotte (5-1) and has helped the team get off to its best start in franchise history.

“You have to like what we can become,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “It's still hard for me to get a definitive idea of how good this team can be, because we haven't had our full team together, but I love what we're doing. I love this team. I love where we are. I love our attitude and the way we practice.”

Guard Kemba Walker is a major driving force behind Charlotte's early success. Walker ranks 11th among NBA players in scoring, averaging 24.3 points per game. He is shooting a career-best 49 percent from the field and a career-best 48.7 percent from 3-point range.

The Hornets are also creating success by playing smart basketball. Charlotte enters Wednesday's game against Utah averaging just 11.3 turnovers per game — the fewest of any NBA team.

Charlotte has split the season series each of the last two seasons with Utah, winning both games at home. The Jazz have not earned a road victory over the Hornets since scratching out an 88-85 victory on December 21, 2013.