Hill could return as Jazz host 76ers (Dec 29, 2016)

BY AP • December 29, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY -- It has taken longer than expected, but Utah appears to finally be on the verge of getting its roster back to full strength.

Starting point guard George Hill could return to the starting lineup for the Jazz when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night. Hill missed 13 games while recovering from a sprained toe. He practiced with Utah on Monday.

Alec Burks practiced as well, although there's no timetable for his return. Burks has not played this season after having offseason ankle surgery.

Utah has struggled at times on offense in Hill's absence. The Jazz snapped a three game losing streak on Tuesday with a 102-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

"It's hard to play without your starting point guard and that's George Hill playing 34 minutes," Utah coach Quin Snyder said. "(In) those 34 minutes, I think the way he takes care of the ball will help."

Trading for Hill turned out to be one of the best offseason moves the Jazz could have made. Hill averages 20 points on 53.4 percent shooting, 4.2 assists and 3.5 rebounds. More importantly, he has been a steadying influence for the Jazz in crunch time.

If Hill is good to go, it could help Utah rebuild momentum and keep pace in a tough Western Conference. The Jazz started out on the right foot by prevailing against the Lakers. Utah had to overcome 20 turnovers -- leading to 24 points by Los Angeles -- to get it done.

"We needed this one especially with the losing streak we've been on -- kind of get us going back in the right direction." forward Gordon Hayward said. "It will be good to get some guys back and healthy. Tonight showed our depth and capability of guys to step up and make big plays."

The Sixers will be without their best player on Thursday night. Joel Embiid will rest against Utah and play against Denver on Friday. Philadelphia has not yet cleared him to play both games in a back-to-back this season.

It is a foreboding sign for the Sixers' chances against the Jazz. Embiid leads the team in points (18.7), rebounds (7.4) and blocked shots (2.4). Philadelphia is just 2-7 this season when he is not in the lineup.

"My body has been kind of tired," Embiid told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday. "So that played a part of making that decision (to rest Thursday as opposed to Friday). . . . I can get some rest, but I'll be fine."

Embiid's absence will mean more playing time for Nerlens Noel, who has fallen out of Philadelphia's rotation after missing 24 games with knee and ankle injuries. Noel is averaging career lows of 4.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in only 7.8 minutes per game.

Gerald Henderson will not play against Utah and Denver. Henderson is out because of left hip pain, depriving the Sixers of a much needed perimeter defender to send out against sharpshooters Rodney Hood and Joe Ingles.

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