November 30, 2014

Gordon Hayward realizes he won't receive the attention bestowed upon many of the NBA's other stars until the young Utah Jazz start winning regularly.

Riding their longest winning streak of the season, Hayward is the main reason why.

Utah can win its fourth straight game by beating the Denver Nuggets for the fourth consecutive time as it continues its homestand Wednesday night.

Hayward is averaging team highs of 19.9 points and 3.7 assists in his sixth season, tying him for the most experienced player on a roster that doesn't have one older than 28. He and Trey Burke also are the only two who have played in every game for the Jazz (22-25) this season.

Coach Quin Snyder credited Hayward for "putting the team on his back" when Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors missed time with injuries and Alec Burks was lost for the season. He did so again Monday, finishing with 27 points, a season-high 12 rebounds and seven assists in a 105-96 overtime win over Chicago.

Hayward tied it with 4.8 seconds left in regulation with a driving layup before Utah dominated the extra period. He finished 9 of 20 from the field and is averaging 23.9 points over his last seven.

Utah, which is playing its fifth on a six-game homestand, hasn't made the playoffs since the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, but the club is in the thick of the Western Conference race past the season's midway point.

"I think I'm an elite player in this league and I think I have to find ways to help my team win more," Hayward said. "We're learning how to do that. It feels good to win three in a row. We've got two more at home and hopefully we can take advantage of that stretch."

Snyder fielded questions about Hayward's emergence, but he maintained nothing surprises him anymore.

"He's been doing this for years," Snyder said. "He's been willing to take hard shots. He's been willing to put himself out there, and over time when you're as good as he is, you're going to succeed. You're seeing a great competitor right now."

Hayward scored 20 in a 96-84 win at Denver on Nov. 5 and followed with 26 in a 97-88 home victory Dec. 18. The Nuggets (19-30) will look to end their skid in the series after snapping Toronto's 11-game overall win streak with Monday's 112-93 victory.

Denver had dropped five of its previous seven, but 20-year-old rookie Nikola Jokic came through, finishing with season highs of 27 points and 14 rebounds for his third straight double-double while going 12 of 18 from the field.

Jokic, who is averaging 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds on the season, has averaged 19.3 points and 11.7 boards in that stretch.

"What a performance. Every time I think he's kind of maxed out for his rookie season, he finds a way to keep on impressing me," coach Michael Malone said.

"You can talk about some of these other young bigs who are all talented, and I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the world. He's a special young man and a special young talent. He's only going to get better as he gets stronger."

The 6-foot-10 center played sparingly in the first two meetings with Utah, combining for 12 points and 13 rebounds while going 2 of 9 from the field.

Jameer Nelson was inactive against Toronto because of a sore left wrist and his status for this contest is unclear.

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